Fear of Greece euro exit sparks equity sell-off

NEW YORK Tue May 15, 2012 2:57am IST

1 of 2. A man is reflected on a stock quotation board outside a brokerage in Tokyo May 11, 2012.

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Global stocks slid on Monday on worries Greece could leave the euro zone, while oil prices fell after a move by economic powerhouse China to boost lending sparked fears its economy was weaker than thought.

Data pointing to a deeper European recession, along with growing unease over the Greek debt crisis, pushed shares down nearly 2 percent to a 4-1/2-month closing low in Europe, while the euro hit a near four-month low against the dollar.

Stocks on Wall Street fell about 1 percent to a three-month low and government debt gained, pushing German and British yields to record lows, after coalition talks in Greece on Sunday faltered and increased the chance of mid-June election.

President Karolos Papoulias summoned political parties to a third day of talks on Tuesday, but the Greek Socialist leader, Evangelos Venizelos, said he was not optimistic a new government could be formed.

The yield on U.S. Treasuries, which moves inversely to price, fell to the lowest level since early October, breaking decisively below 1.80 percent, a key resistance point.

"It is all about the safe-haven trade - the flight to safety and the rush from fear," said David Dietze, investment strategist at Point View Wealth Management in Summit, New Jersey.

"We are looking at the highest risk since the euro sovereign debt crisis started, that one of their member countries, Greece, is going to break away from the euro," Dietze said. "Since a member has never left, the exact repercussions for the euro economy or even the euro currency are just unknown."

The benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note was up 18/32 in price to yield 1.78 percent.

German 10-year yields plumbed a record low of 1.434 percent, and yields on 10-year British gilts fell to a record low of 1.86 percent.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats suffered a crushing defeat o n Sunday that could embolden the opposition left to step up attacks on her European austerity policies. Merkel said on Mon day the defeat was a bitter setback but would not alter her view on how to achieve growth.

Safe-haven currencies, such as the dollar and the Japanese yen, rose. Expectations are for the euro to continue to fall, driven by speculation over the implications of Greece's possible exit from the euro zone.

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI closed down 125.25 points, or 0.98 percent, at 12,695.35. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index .SPX fell 15.04 points, or 1.11 percent, to 1,338.35. The Nasdaq Composite Index .IXIC slid 31.24 points, or 1.06 percent, at 2,902.58.

Compounding the picture for investors was data that showed output at factories in the euro zone unexpectedly fell in March, the latest in a series of disappointing numbers signaling the bloc's recession may not be as mild as policymakers hope.

Industrial production in the 17 countries sharing the euro fell 0.3 percent from February, the EU's Eurostat statistics office said. Economists polled by Reuters had expected a 0.4 percent increase in March.

Signs of a struggling Chinese economy also chilled investor sentiment. China, the world's second-biggest economy, cut bank reserve requirements on Saturday to free up an estimated 400 billion yuan for lending in a bid to avert a sudden slowdown.

The FTSEurofirst 300 index .FTEU3 of top European shares ended down 1.8 percent at 1,004.20, its lowest close since December 30.

MSCI's measure of world stock markets .MIWDOOOOOPUS fell 1.6 percent to 310.10, while its emerging markets index .MSCIEF fell 2.1 percent to 950.25.

Oil fell sharply to extend recent heavy losses as the mounting political uncertainty over Greece and the prospect for slower growth in China, the world's second-biggest energy consumer, weighed on the demand outlook.

Brent crude fell 69 cents to settle at $111.57 a barrel. U.S. crude fell $1.35 to settle at $94.78 a barrel.

Prices for Brent crude have fallen 6.2 percent and for U.S. crude 8.4 percent in the two weeks ended Friday.

Gold prices also fell as the political deadlock in Greece fueled risk aversion and put pressure on the euro.

Spot gold prices lost $21.84 to trade at $1,557.60 an ounce, after earlier hitting a session low of $1,556.61 an ounce, its lowest since December 30.

The euro fell 0.61 percent to $1.2836. The U.S. dollar index .DXY was up 0.47 percent at 80.639, and against the Japanese yen, the dollar was down 0.11 percent at 79.83 yen.

Analysts said the euro could hit the 2012 low of $1.2623 in coming weeks, with some forecasting a break toward $1.20.

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