World stocks fall on slumping German economy
BANGKOK Disappointing news about Germany's economy sent world stock markets down on Friday as investors turned their attention to a major economic conference this weekend.
Britain's FTSE 100 fell 0.2 percent to 6,318.14. Germany's DAX lost 0.3 percent to 7,607.49 and France's CAC-40 shed less than 0.1 percent to 3,668.30. Wall Street also appeared headed for a day of losses, with Dow Jones industrial futures falling 0.2 percent to 13,926. S&P 500 futures lost 0.2 percent to 1,515.10.
Those drops came a day after Germany said its economy contracted a worse-than-expected 0.6 percent in the last quarter of 2012 as recession deepened across the 17 European Union countries that use the euro. It was Germany's worst performance since early 2009, amid a global recession.
The worry for European policymakers is that output is declining beyond weaker, debt-laden economies like Greece and Spain. France, Europe's second-biggest economy, also suffered a drop in output.
"A number of analysts have been making the case for quite some time now that the worst in Europe is probably behind us. However the steepness of the contractions ... appears to have given markets pause," said Michael Hewson of CMC Markets in an email commentary.
Finance ministers from 20 of the world's leading economies are meeting in Moscow this weekend to take up a host of issues, including concerns about a possible currency war.
Japan's new government has voiced a desire for a lower yen as a way to boost exports and its weak economy. But there are fears that more countries will seek to manipulate their currencies to gain trade advantages.
The slowdown in Europe was gloomy news for Asian countries, which depend on exports to the region to help drive their economies.
Japan's Nikkei 225 index fell 1.2 percent to close at 11,173.83. Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.1 percent to 23,444.56. South Korea's Kospi rose 0.1 percent to 1,981.18. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 was down 0.1 percent at 5,033.90.
Benchmarks in Singapore, Thailand and New Zealand also fell. Mainland China and Taiwan were closed for Lunar New Year holidays.
Jackson Wong, vice president at Tanrich Securities in Hong Kong, said the Hang Seng was pausing before markets on mainland China reopen Monday after a weeklong Chinese New Year holiday.
"Analysts are expected a decent gain on the first day," he said, referring to mainland Chinese stocks. "I do expect a gain but not a huge gain. Chinese markets have been moving up steadily like the Hong Kong market. I believe they will continue this trend."
Japanese export shares, which have surged in recent weeks from a weakening yen, got hammered as the Japanese currency reversed course. Sharp Corp. plunged 4 percent. Ricoh Co. shed 3.4 percent. Yamaha Motor Co. tumbled 5.7 percent.
Anglo-Australian mining group Rio Tinto fell 2.7 percent after posting a $3 billion loss for 2012 after taking a $14 billion writedown from its aluminum business and the acquisition of a coal company in Mozambique.
Benchmark oil for March delivery was down 27 cents to $97.04 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 30 cents to finish at $97.31 per barrel on the Nymex on Thursday.
In currencies, the euro fell to $1.3335 from $1.3346 late Thursday in New York. The dollar fell to 92.40 yen from 93.02 yen.
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