Stocks drop on bank exposure

The failure of eurozone finance ministers to come up with a concrete measure on Greece sends stocks plummeting as investors flee from perceived risk to the relative safety of the US dollar. The markets are especially concerned about European lender Dexia, which reportedly has a huge exposure to shaky Greek government debt
A trader scratches his head at the stock market in Frankfurt, Germany, in this photo on Monday. European stocks continued their downward spiral yesterday. AP photo

A trader scratches his head at the stock market in Frankfurt, Germany, in this photo on Monday. European stocks continued their downward spiral yesterday. AP photo

World stocks hit a fresh 15-month low on Tuesday and the dollar rose to a nine-month peak as fears over a major banking crisis in Europe mounted along with expectations Greece could soon default, accelerating a global economic slowdown.

Sovereign debt insurance costs for the region’s economic powerhouse Germany hit a record high after eurozone finance ministers said they were reviewing the scale of private sector involvement in a second bailout package for Greece, a move that threatens to hasten a default.

At their meeting in Luxembourg, the ministers also agreed Greece could wait until mid-November for the next instalment from the existing aid program, putting further pressure on Athens to get to grips with its debt problems .

European banking shares fell 4.2 percent, with Dexia shedding as much as 37 percent on top of its 10 percent fall on Monday, as worries about the Franco-Belgian bank’s heavy exposure to Greece grew.

“What you’re now beginning to see is they (investors) are now picking out the banks. Dexia is the weakest,” said Justin Urquhart Stewart, director at Seven Investment Management. “Politicians have to stand behind these banks – whether you call it state support, nationalization, you have to keep the financial system working otherwise we will end up with another credit crisis.”

Expectations the region’s paymasters in Berlin will have to fork out increasing amounts of money to bail out weaker elements within the eurozone sent the cost of insuring German debt against default to record highs, with the country’s five-year credit default swaps, or CDS, rising to 1.21 percentage point. Debt insurance costs for Belgium and peripheral eurozone states also rose.

The MSCI world equity index fell 1.5 percent, hitting its lowest since July 2010. The index has fallen more than 18 percent since January and more than 24 percent since hitting a three-year high in March.

European stocks lost 2.6 percent while emerging stocks fell 2 percent to hit their lowest since September 2009. U.S. crude oil fell 1.1 percent to $76.78 a barrel.

Belgium’s five-year CDSs rose 14 basis points to 2.86 percentage points, close to a Sept. 22 record.

The dollar rose 0.4 percent against a basket of major currencies to a fresh nine-month high. The euro fell as low as $1.3144, a nine-month trough.

“The tone for the euro is sour after the failure of the eurozone finance ministers to bring anything concrete to the table with respect to Greece,” said Jane Foley, senior currency strategist at Rabobank. “The market is … worried about the … Greek crisis and the calamity that could be created if there was a messy default.”

Tuesday, October 4, 2011
LONDON – Reuters