Stocks drop as investors prepare for quarter end

AP News
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Posted: Sep 30, 2011 8:22 AM
Stocks drop as investors prepare for quarter end

Stocks fell on Friday as optimism over Germany's approval for a beefed-up European rescue fund faded and investors closed trades ahead of the end of the fiscal quarter, which has seen the biggest losses since 2008, when the world was heading into its deepest recession since World War II.

Though the German Parliament's support of an expanded bailout facility on Thursday has helped soothe some concerns over Europe's debt crisis, investors are aware that there are many hurdles ahead, not least the possibility of a Greek debt default.

However, much of Friday's trading activity is being influenced by the confluence of the month and quarter-end. Many fund managers try to get their portfolios to look as healthy as possible at such junctures and that prompts some volatility.

"Today will mostly be about wrapping up the third quarter," said Kit Juckes, an analyst at Societe Generale. "Random-seeming month-end moves are guaranteed."

In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was down 1.3 percent to 5,131 while Germany's DAX fell 2.5 percent to 5,500. The CAC-40 in France was 1.8 percent lower at 2,972.

Wall Street is also poised to open lower _ Dow futures were down 1.1 percent at 10,983 while the broader Standard & Poor's 500 futures fell 1.2 percent at 1,144.

The focus later will be on a raft of U.S. economic figures to see if the recent improvement in the dataflow continues. Top of the list will be a survey of manufacturing conditions in and around the Chicago area and the University of Michigan's latest assessment of consumer confidence.

"There is enough to keep traders busy, but this market still feels like one that is in a holding pattern waiting for the next stage of the European drama to unfold," said Ben Critchley, market strategist at IG Index.

On Thursday, investors were cheered by some upbeat U.S. figures as well as the German 'yes' vote.

The Commerce Department said the U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of 1.3 percent in the April-June quarter, up from an estimate of 1 percent made a month ago. The improvement reflected more consumer spending and a bigger boost from trade.

Further good news emerged from the Labor Department, which found that jobless claims last week dropped 37,000 to a seasonally adjusted 391,000, the lowest level since April 2. It's the first time applications have fallen below 400,000 since Aug. 6.

In the currency markets, the euro failed to react to a surprisingly big increase in inflation to 3 percent in the year to September in the 17 countries that use the euro. The euro was trading 0.6 percent lower at $1.35.

Under normal circumstances the increase may have prompted a euro rebound as investors priced in a lower probability of a rate cut next week from the European Central Bank. However, investors are worried about the growth outlook in Europe more than anything else and keeping rates high for longer than anticipated is likely to pinch the economy.

Earlier in Asia, Japan's Nikkei 225 swung between gains and losses before closing fractionally lower at 8,700.29. South Korea's Kospi also was in and out of positive territory before settling marginally higher at 1,769.65.

Shares in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Shenzhen sank after data showed China's manufacturing continued to stagnate in September. Hong Kong's Hang Seng slumped 2.3 percent to 17,592.41. Mainland's Shanghai Composite Index fell 0.3 percent to 2,359.22 and the smaller Shenzhen Composite Index lost 0.2 percent to 1,004.52.

Oil prices tracked equities lower _ benchmark oil for November delivery was down 66 cents at $81.48 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

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Pamela Sampson in Bangkok contributed to this report.