Spain concerns drag markets down

AP News
Posted: Apr 30, 2012 12:06 PM
Spain concerns drag markets down

Concerns over Spain's financial condition weighed on markets Monday, after investors had initially bid up stocks on hopes that the Federal Reserve would provide more stimulus to the U.S. economy.

Official data on Monday confirmed Spain is back in its second recession in three years after shrinking by 0.3 percent in the first quarter, following a similar decline in the previous three-month period.

The contraction in Spain's economy is dimming hopes that the government will be able to cut its budget deficit as predicted and raises the specter that the country might be locked into a downward financial spiral. A recession makes it more difficult to lower the deficit, and as investors lose confidence in the country, borrowing rates rise, adding to the financial pressure.

Ratings agency Standard & Poor's last week downgraded Spain to just three notches above junk, following up the move on Monday by lowering its rating for 11 Spanish banks.

Investors are worried that Spain will not be able to support its banks, which are burdened with massive amounts of bad loans from an imploded property market. But rescuing Spain, the fourth-largest economy in the 17-country eurozone, might prove too expensive for the continent's bailout funds.

Amid the growing uncertainty, and as traders prepared for a holiday on Tuesday across much of continental Europe, stocks dropped.

After early gains, Britain's FTSE closed down 0.7 percent at 5,737.78 and France's CAC-40 fell 1.6 percent to 3,212.80. Germany's DAX lost 0.6 percent to 6,761.19.

The cautious mood in Europe's stock markets was also evident in the performance of the euro, which fell to $1.3229 from $1.3259 late Friday in New York.

Wall Street likewise traded lower, with the Dow industrial average down 0.2 percent at 13,196.37 and the S&P 500 down 0.5 percent to 1,396.81.

Earlier, several Asian indexes had managed to close higher as investors there focused on the U.S. economy and hopes that the Fed might sanction another round of bond-buying, known as quantitative easing, after figures last Friday showed the world's largest economy grew less than expected in the first quarter.

The Fed has already carried out two rounds of bond-buying as it tried to drive down long-term interest rates and stimulate spending and business investment. Low bond yields also encourage investors to shift money to stocks.

New statistics released Monday showed a slowdown in U.S. consumer spending growth in March, confirming that the economic recovery remains patchy.

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Trading in Asia was light given holidays in Japan and mainland China. All major Asian markets except Tokyo will be closed for holidays on Tuesday.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 1.7 percent to 21,094.21, South Korea's Kospi added 0.3 percent to 1,981.99 and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.8 percent to 4,396.60.

Looking ahead, traders are awaiting U.S. monthly jobs figures for April, to be released Friday, and the second round of France's presidential election on Sunday.

Polls suggest the election will be won by Socialist contender Francois Hollande, who wants to renegotiate a European treaty intended to limit excessive government spending to emphasize growth over austerity. Some investors fear Hollande could upset France's delicate cooperation with Germany, which has been critical to Europe's efforts to resolve its financial crisis.

Oil prices tracked equities lower, with benchmark oil for June delivery down 75 cents to $104.18 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.


Pamela Sampson in Bangkok contributed to this report.