Stocks tank as Italy debt fears resurface

AP News
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Posted: Nov 25, 2011 6:54 AM
Stocks tank as Italy debt fears resurface

Stocks took another pounding Friday after Italy's borrowing rates ratcheted higher following a pair of hugely disappointing auctions from the eurozone's third-largest economy.

The auction results are another sign that Italy's new technocratic government faces a big battle to convince the markets it has a strategy to get a grip on the country's massive debts. It also served as a reminder that Europe's debt crisis has clearly spread from its relatively small economies to big countries such as Italy and Spain.

Italy had to pay an average yield of 7.814 percent to raise euro2 billion ($2.67 billion) in two-year bills. That rate was sharply higher on the 4.628 percent it had to pay in the previous auction in October. And even raising euro8 billion ($10.7 billion) for six months proved exorbitantly expensive. The yield for this auction spiked to 6.504 percent, nearly double the 3.535 percent rate in the last equivalent auction last month.

Following the grim news on the auction front, Italy's borrowing rates in the markets skyrocketed, with the ten-year yield spiking 0.34 percentage point to 7.30 percent _ above the 7 percent threshold that is widely considered unsustainable in the long-run and eventually forced Greece, Ireland and Portugal had to seek financial bailouts.

The renewed rise is likely to renew tensions over Italy's debts, which stand at euro1.9 trillion ($2.6 trillion), or a huge 120 percent of its economic output. Europe's current anti-crisis measures are too not big enough to deal with Italy's debt mountain

Against this backdrop, markets in Europe continued their long losing streak. Germany's DAX was down 0.6 percent at 5,396 while the CAC-40 in France fell 0.7 percent to 2,802. Britain's FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was 0.5 percent lower at 5,101 but Italy's main FTSE MIB index underperformed them all, trading 1.8 percent lower.

The euro also took a hit, trading 0.7 percent lower at $1.3234, a fresh seven-week low.

Wall Street was poised for a lower opening too though trading is expected to be fairly light as many traders will remain away for a long Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Dow futures were 0.7 percent lower at 11,160 while the broader Standard & Poor's 500 futures fell 0.8 percent to 1,151.

Aside from Europe's debt crisis, traders in the U.S. were bracing for a crucial test of the world's No. 1 economy _ so-called Black Friday, the day that kicks off the holiday shopping season. How well retailers do will have consequences for the still-fragile U.S. economic recovery, as well as for the global economy.

Adding to the negative sentiment was Moody's downgrading of Hungary's credit rating to junk status late Thursday.

Hungary, which last week asked the International Monetary Fund and the European Union for possible financial help, is feeling the fallout from the debt crisis in the 17-country eurozone, even though it does not use the euro. Its economy has not grown as much as hoped and its debt burden remains relatively high.

"While not really a market-moving event, the downgrading of Hungarian bonds to junk status still served to highlight that the same old European debt problems remain - and many traders feel there is still the same old lack of urgency from politicians," said David Jones, chief market strategist at IG Index.

Earlier in Asia, trading was sluggish. Japan's Nikkei 225 index closed marginally down at 8,160.01 while Hong Kong's Hang Seng dropped 1.4 percent to 17,689.48.

In mainland China, the benchmark Shanghai Composite Index lost 0.7 percent to 2,380.22, its lowest closing level in a month.

Benchmark crude for January delivery was down 2 cents at $96.11 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract last settled on Wednesday in New York at $96.17, down $1.84.

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Pamela Sampson in Bangkok contributed to this report.