World stocks and euro slump on eurozone, Korea fears

Global stocks plunged Tuesday and the euro fell close to a four-year dollar low as investors fled in the face of concerns about the eurozone and tensions between North Korea and South Korea.

Markets, rocked by fresh turmoil in the Spanish banking sector, were also hit by the prospect of severe austerity measures in the eurozone that could slam the brakes on the fragile global economic recovery.

"There a combination of factors pulling the rug out from under the market," said IG Index analyst David Jones.

"European debt concerns are brought to the fore again as four of Spain's banks have been pushed into a merger by the government in a move to try and strengthen the region's financial institutions.

"Added to this are increased tensions between North and South Korea on reports that the north has gone onto military alert."

The European single currency sank as low as 1.2178 US dollars as the US unit attracted investors hunting for a safe-haven. That was not far from the four-year low of 1.2144 that was struck last week on eurozone economy fears.

Continental European equities plunged by between 3.0-5.0 percent in midday trading, with London striking the lowest level since early September 2009.

The British stock market tumbled by almost 3.0 percent, Frankfurt shed more than 3.0 percent and Paris plummeted by nearly 4.0 percent at one stage.

"Investors continued to flee risky asset classes on Tuesday ... causing European Indices to slump," said City Index analyst Joshua Raymond.


"Worries about the potential for high sovereign debt to destabilise growth is weighing down any appetite for risk."

Madrid collapsed by around 5.0 percent after the Spanish central bank rescued provincial lender CajaSur over the weekend, heaping more pain on the country's already-strained financial system.

Milan shares sank 5.15 percent as Italy's government prepared to announce a fresh round austerity measures, in line with other fiscally-challenged nations that are seeking belt-tightening measures to save cash.

Spain's rescue of CajaSur, meanwhile, could cost up to 2.7 billion euros according to media reports.

Sentiment also took a knock following news of an enormous four-way merger in the nation's troubled banking sector.

Four other Spanish savings banks -- Caja de Ahorros del Mediterraneo, Cajastur, Caja Extremadura and Caja Cantabria -- had revealed Monday that they would merge into a single bank, Sistema Institucional de Proteccion.

ETX Capital trader Manoj Ladwa said the eurozone situation was "slightly more serious" than developments in Korea.

"Uncertainty of risk and exposure is the main driver for prices," he told AFP.

London investors meanwhile set aside news that the British economy grew by a stronger-than-expected 0.3 percent in the first quarter of 2010.

Asian stocks wilted on reports that North Korea had put its civilians and troops on combat alert following an investigation blaming it for the sinking of a South Korean ship in March.

Tokyo wiped out 3.06 percent, hitting the lowest level since November 30, Hong Kong erased 3.47 percent and Shanghai shed 1.90 percent.

"The bloodbath continues on equity markets as a heightened sense of concern creeps back in to traders' minds," said ODL Securities analyst Owen Ireland.

"Whilst the previous falls could have been interpreted by some as buying opportunities, there now appears to be deeper-rooted misgivings about the health of the global economy."

New York shares had dived on Monday on eurozone fears, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average losing 1.24 percent.

Back in the eurozone, the head of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, took German leaders to task Tuesday in a press interview for failing to drum up popular support for the crisis-hit euro.

"In recent years, there have not been many leading German political voices to explain to the public how important the euro is for Germany," Barroso told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) newspaper.

"Germany has been a great winner of the euro. I think more politicians in Germany should say that clearly," Barroso said.

German voters are uneasy about a 110-billion-euro (135-billion-dollar) bail-out of stricken eurozone member Greece and a 750-billion-euro rescue package put together earlier this month in a bid to prop up the euro.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has also been criticised for hesitating over whether to contribute to the bailout and of thereby exacerbating the crisis.

"Our decision-making process simply lasted too long. (Financial) markets have seen too many contradictory signs," Barroso told the FAZ.