Business World

Friday 19 September 2014

Portugal woes sink European stocks

Published 10/07/2014 | 14:38

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A Portuguese national flag flies above the parliament building in Lisbon
A Portuguese national flag flies above the parliament building in Lisbon

Europe's debt-sodden periphery was back at the top of the list of financial concerns on Thursday, troubles around Portugal's biggest listed bank pushing shares sharply lower and quelling demand for an issue of bonds by Greece.

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The noise around BES, whose shares plunged more than 15 percent, drowned out any support for sentiment from Federal Reserve minutes read as showing the U.S. central bank little closer to an outright rise in interest rates.

Stock markets in Germany and France fell around 1.5 percent while Norway's, also hurt by poor results for its own biggest commercial lender, was down more than 2 percent.

Yields on bonds issued by the southern European governments at the heart of four years of turmoil for the euro zone rose across the board and traders said demand for an issue of three-year Greek bonds was lacklustre in response.

"It is not ideal timing given all the concerns the market has on Portugal," said Michael Michaelides, a rates analyst at RBS in London.

"We’ve seen a very strong sale in Ireland. The broader correlation still stands in the periphery … but now you see increasingly that when there is a particular story in one country, that market moves a lot more than the others."

Also playing in to the concerns around the euro zone's southern half were data showing the steepest drop in Italian industrial output in almost two years.

U.S. stock futures pointed to a fall of almost one percent at opening.

STRETCHED

Faith in a rally in stock markets that dates back to August 2011 has been more shaky over the past month than for some time, as the Fed nears what looks like a definitive end to its programme of new money-printing.

But the minutes from the U.S. central bank's last meeting, published after European markets had closed on Wednesday, offered no sign it was any closer to following that with a swift rise in official interest rates to cool the economy.

That boosted U.S. and Asian markets overnight. But the dominant concern in Europe was companies' results and the economy's ability to survive without the new funds which the Fed's bond-buying has forced into the system every month.

Norway's largest bank DNB added to an inauspicious start to the second quarter earnings for some of Europe's biggest companies while construction firm Skanska said it would significantly scale down its loss-making Latin American operations.

"For many the markets are still a bit too expensive considered that the global recovery seems to be progressing somewhat slower than previously hoped," said Markus Huber, an analyst with trading firm Peregrine Black in London.

The dollar, seen as the big beneficiary of any move by the Fed toward higher interest rates, fell by as much as half a cent in response to the minutes but was broadly steady in morning trade in Europe.

Britain's FTSE 100 index was helped by an almost 2 percent rise for Burberry (BRBY.L) after the luxury brand reported a strong batch of earnings for the first quarter, boding well for other high-end consumer companies.

But oil prices were lower, normally a negative for the commodity heavy index, and helping drive the London market 0.9 percent lower in morning trade. A fall to around $108 a barrel extended the oil market's longest losing streak in four years. The FTSE has fallen every day for a week.

JAPANESE ORDERS

Performance in much of Asia overnight had been more positive, the MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan up 0.2 percent.

Tokyo's Nikkei fell 0.3 percent, weighed down by a record drop in machinery orders in May that cast doubt over the outlook for capital spending and the strength of its economic recovery.

China, another concern this year for world growth, reported exports in June below market forecasts, although that reinforced expectations that Beijing will have to unveil more stimulus measures to stabilise the economy and meet 2014 growth targets.

"The trade figures were not so exciting. It's still unrealistic to count on exports to be an important contributor to economic growth," said Wang Jun, an economist at the China Centre for International Economic Exchanges in Beijing.

"The import figure showed some signs of improvement on domestic demand. Taken together with weak inflation data, we think domestic demand remains weak."

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