Rising borrowing costs for many of the eurozone's more indebted countries sent investors scurrying out of stock markets Tuesday, on a day that Italy's premier-designate was looking to get the support of the country's political parties for his government.
Despite a growing sense of relief that respected economist Mario Monti has been tapped to replace Silvio Berlusconi, markets are viewing developments in Rome with skepticism and the country's key borrowing rate is spiking again.
The yield on the country's 10-year bond was up another 0.43 percentage point Tuesday to 7.01 percent, crucially above the 7 percent threshold that stoked panic last week that Italy's finances were spiraling out of control. It was that sort of rate that eventually forced Greece, Ireland and Portugal to seek multibillion bailouts; the problem this time is that Italy is the eurozone's third-biggest economy and widely thought to be too big to save.
It's not just Italy that's facing rising bond market pressures. Spain's equivalent rate is getting uncomfortably high, too, rising a further 0.18 percentage point to 6.26 percent.
And France has seen its ten-year yield rise another 0.17 percentage point to 3.59 percent. That the eurozone's second-largest economy _ one considered part of the bloc's bedrock _ is now feeling the pinch is stoking fears that the crisis has yet to swallow its last victim.
A report released Tuesday that rated the economies of the 17 countries that use the euro had harsh words for France, which it placed near the bottom of an assessment of overall health, in between Spain and Italy.
"Alarm bells should be ringing for France," the report from the Lisbon Council think tank warned. "The results are too mediocre for a country that wants to safeguard its place in the top league."
All this is proving an uncomfortable backdrop for stock markets, which have suffered a sharp reverse.
"This is an extremely worrying time for Europe as contagion is starting to become a very real possibility," said Simon Furlong, a trader with Spreadex. "The stark reality (is) that there could very possibly be a Domino effect in Europe."
In Europe, Germany's DAX was down 2.2 percent at 5,853 while France's CAC-40 fell 2 percent to 3,047. The FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was down 1.3 percent at 5,447.
Wall Street was poised for big falls at the open too _ Dow futures fell 1 percent t0 11,934 while the broader Standard & Poor's 500 futures fell 1.3 percent to 1,236.
The declines came despite figures showing that the eurozone managed to avoid contracting in the third quarter of the year. Instead, solid German and French growth figures allowed the eurozone to eke out growth of 0.2 percent.
However, there's a growing worry that the eurozone will soon fall back into recession as the debt crisis spreads and that's weighing on the euro too, which was down 0.6 percent at $1.3539.
Slow growth makes deficits bigger in relation to the rest of the economy, and Greece acknowledged Monday that it would miss its deficit target for this year. In response, Prime Minister Lucas Papademos said he would speed up the reforms that are meant to make the economy more competitive.
Those measures have met stiff resistance in the streets of Athens and other major cities but are necessary to ensure Greece continues to get the bailout loans that have kept it afloat since last year.
In addition to quelling public unrest, Papademos also has to wrangle the country's parliamentary leaders because Greece's international creditors want to see a commitment across the political spectrum to the reforms _ or else they'll turn off the tap.
Italy's Monti is also working to build consensus in parliament on Tuesday. He is meeting later in the day with legislative leaders to ensure they'll back his new government in a confidence vote later this week.
While investors were initially relieved that Monti, an economist, was taking the helm in Rome, concerns are re-emerging about the sheer amount of work his new government will have to do to restore faith in the country's battered economy and finances.
Italy needs borrowing rates to come down to avoid a big increase in its interest costs as some euro200 billion ($273 billion) in public debt comes due through the end of April.
Earlier in the day, Asian stock markets were mostly lower. Japan's Nikkei 225 index lost 0.7 percent to close at 8,541.93. South Korea's Kospi index dropped 0.9 percent to 1,886.12 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 0.8 percent to 19,348.44. Benchmarks in Australia, Taiwan and Singapore also retreated.
Only mainland China's Shanghai Composite Index closed marginally higher at 2,529.76.
Oil prices tracked equities lower _ benchmark crude for December delivery was down 55 cents at $97.59 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Pamela Sampson contributed to this report from Bangkok.