31 Jan 2009

European stocks down

9:57 am on 31 January 2009

European stock markets dropped on Friday after new data showed unemployment in the eurozone is at a two-year high.

In the United States, the Commerce Department reported that gross domestic product contracted at a rate of 3.8% in the fourth quarter of 2008. It was the sharpest quarterly decline since 1982.

The FTSEurofirst 300 index ended at 796.76 points, up 0.03%.

However, the DAX index in Frankfurt ended at 4,338.35 points, down 89.76 or 2.03%.

The CAC-40 index in Paris closed at 2,973.92 points, down 35.83 or 1.19%.

The Swiss market index closed at 5,290.05 points, up 17.15 or 0.33%.

In Britain, the FTSE 100 closed down 40.47 points, or 1%, at 4,149.64, after losing 2.5% on Thursday. The index fell 6.4% in January after losing more than 31% last year.

Banks rose on Friday: Barclays rose 5.8%, Royal Bank of Scotland advanced 4.8% and Standard Chartered added 3.7%.

The banking sector lost 20% in January and nearly 57% in 2008.

In addition, Franco-Belgian bank Dexia announced a net loss estimated at 3 billion euros and Banco Popular, the third-biggest bank in Spain, said its 2008 net profit fell 16.8%.

However, UBS said in a note that it estimated 36% of the trading statements published by companies in January had been better than expected.

Other markets

In Japan, the Nikkei was down 257.19 points, 3.12%, to close at 7,994.05. The index gained 248.80 points or 3.2 percent on the week.

In Hong Kong, shares finished up 0.94% on speculation that Beijing would announce a fresh round of stimulus measures, including an interest rate cut, as it emerges from a week-long holiday.

The Hang Seng Index closed 123.78 points higher at 13,278.21, adding 699.61 in the two days of trading this week. The index is down 7.7% for the month of January.

In Australia, the S&P/ASX 200 index ended the day up 14.5 points, 0.41%, at 3,540.7.

The All Ordinaries index had gained 16.8 points, or 0.49%, to 3,478.1.

In New Zealand, the NZX50 finished the trading week slightly higher, up 4 points to 2774 on turnover of $107 million.

Top stocks gained, with Contact Energy up 14 cents to $6.87 and Fletcher Building up 13c to $5.65. Telecom closed unchanged at $2.66.

NZ dollar down

However, the New Zealand dollar dropped to another six-year low on Friday, after Reserve Bank Governor Alan Bollard said interest rates are likely to be cut further.

On Thursday, the Reserve Bank lowered the Official Cash Rate from 5% to 3.5%.

Dr Bollard told a business meeting in Christchurch that, in addition to cutting the rate further, the bank has substantial capacity to increase the volume of cash in the system if need be.

Soon after, the New Zealand dollar fell to 50.9 US cents - its lowest point since December 2002.

A slide in the dollar started in March last year as investors began to pull out of the "carry trade" in which the purchase of high-yielding assets is funded by selling low-yield currencies.