Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Europe down, Asia flat as investors step back

LONDON: European stocks eased lower Tuesday and Asia closed flat, as investors stepped back to assess the pace of the global economic recovery in the wake of last week's strong U.S. jobs data and the debt crisis in Greece.

Britain's FTSE 100 benchmark index was down 0.4 percent at 5,584.32 while Germany's DAX was 0.3 percent lower at 5,856.79. France's CAC-40 shed 0.3 percent to 3,892.31.

Asian indexes were little changed, with Tokyo closing down but Chinese benchmarks edging up, and Wall Street was expected to fall on the open. Dow industrials futures were down 22 points at 10,516.00 and Standard & Poor's 500 futures were down 4.1 points at 1,133.00.

A few earnings reports mostly disappointed in Europe. Defence and aerospace company EADS NV reported that spiraling costs on its military transport plane and its A380 superjumbo led to losses in the fourth quarter and full year. Its shares fell 5.3 percent to €15.04 ($20.55) in Paris morning trade.

Financial shares were somewhat weaker after Moody's credit ratings agency said the withdrawal of stimulus measures would leave some banks in Britain fragile. Barclays was down 1.1 percent and Royal Bank of Scotland was down 2.1 percent. Lower commodity prices, meanwhile, weighed on mining stocks.

Trading was subdued, however, as investors took stock of recent swings in sentiment.

"The market seems to be in the mood to take a breather at the moment with little appetite for the choppiness and volatility witnessed over the past week," said Stuart Bennett, forex analyst at Credit Agricole CIB.

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou was due to meet President Barack Obama later Tuesday to discuss stricter regulations on hedge funds and currency traders that Athens believes aggravated their crisis. Shares of MAN Group, the world's largest publicly traded hedge fund, were down 2.5 percent in London.

Pledges of support for Greece from France and Germany over the weekend lacked concrete details, and investors will keep an eye on the country's financial markets — particularly the rate at which is can raise money on capital markets — for signs that confidence in being restored.

Greece last week raised €5 billion ($6.83 billion) in a 10-year bond sale, but the 6.25 percent rate it paid is still considered too high. The country would like to borrow at more moderate rates.

To avoid future fiscal crises, France and Germany have floated the idea of creating a European monetary fund which would have the authority to enforce budget cuts and offer funds to countries facing debt trouble. Such a fund, however, would not be of help to Greece now as it would take months to agree.

In Asia, markets were cautious ahead of key reports on the region's two biggest economies, China and Japan, that are due Wednesday. The strength of Chinese trade data could give investors a better sense of when and how Beijing will wean the country off its economy-boosting measures. A report on Japanese machinery orders, a key gauge of company spending, could provide more insight into the state of global trade and the world's second-largest economy.

Tokyo's Nikkei 225 stock average fell 18.27 points, or 0.2 percent, 10,567.65. Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.1 percent to 21,207.55 and South Korea's main benchmark edged up 0.1 percent to 1,660.83.

Shanghai's market climbed 0.5 percent, while markets in Australia, Taiwan and Singapore rose as well. India's market was down.

Oil prices slipped to near $81 a barrel, losing momentum after a monthlong run-up fueled by growing investor optimism about global economic growth. Benchmark crude for April delivery was down 84 cents to $81.03 a barrel after adding 37 cents overnight.

The dollar was lower at 89.76 yen from 90.28 yen and the euro weakened to $1.3590 from $1.3631.

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