Monday 21 January 2008

Stocks Plummet in Germany, Hong Kong, India, Brazil in Rout

Stocks plunged in Germany, Hong Kong, India and Brazil, and U.S. index futures dropped on mounting speculation that the global economy is slowing and company defaults will rise.

Europe's Dow Jones Stoxx 600 Index fell the most since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and sank into a bear market, as Allianz SE and BNP Paribas SA slid. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index had its biggest drop in six years after BNP Paribas said Bank of China Ltd. may write down overseas securities by $4.8 billion because of losses from U.S. subprime mortgages. Citigroup Inc. retreated in Frankfurt.

The MSCI World Index slipped 2.3 percent to 1,405.27 at 1:53 p.m. in London, extending its decline from an Oct. 31 record to 16 percent. India's Sensitive Index lost the most since 2004, while Germany's DAX slid the most since March 2003. Futures on the Standard & Poor's 500 Index sank 3.5 percent. Trading in the U.S. is closed today for Martin Luther King Day.

``It's the worst I've ever seen,'' said Johan Stein, who helps manage the equivalent of about $14 billion at Nordea Asset Management in Stockholm. ``The financial system is in terrible shape, and no one knows where this will end.''

Today's declines follow the worst week for U.S. stocks in five years after President George W. Bush's $150 billion plan to revive the economy and expectations of interest-rate cuts failed to allay recession concerns.

The risk of European companies defaulting soared to a record today on speculation credit-rating cuts at bond insurers including Ambac Financial Group Inc. may trigger forced asset sales. European Central Bank council member Nout Wellink said economic growth in the region may slow more than policy makers had expected.

Market Crisis

``This is a stock-market crisis,'' said Alberto Roldan, head of research at Inverseguros SVB in Madrid. ``Investors believe that neither a government package nor a huge rate cut is going to help evade a recession in the U.S.''

The Stoxx 600 slid 4.2 percent, extending its drop from a 6 1/2-year high on June 1 to 22 percent. A decline of more than 20 percent is the common definition of a bear market. The gauge earlier fell as much as 5.8 percent, which would have been the biggest drop in six years. France's CAC 40 lost 5.1 percent. The U.K.'s FTSE 100 sank 4 percent, and Germany's DAX slid 5.9 percent.

The VDAX-New Index, a benchmark gauge of European stock- market volatility, surged as much as 39 percent, the most since 2001. The measure of expected price swings for stocks is derived from prices paid for options on Germany's DAX.

The MSCI Asia Pacific Index lost 3.7 percent. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 Index slumped for an 11th day. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index lost 5.5 percent. Japan's Nikkei 225 Stock Average dropped 3.9 percent as the Finance Ministry cut its evaluation of five of 11 regional economies as housing investment fell and employment worsened.

`Sharp Contraction'

The MSCI Emerging Markets Index, a global benchmark, sank 5.1 percent, extending its retreat from an October record to 19 percent.

Brazil's Bovespa index slid 6 percent, the most since February 2007. Russia's Micex Index declined 5.9 percent, the biggest drop in a year.

Allianz, Europe's biggest insurer, tumbled 8.4 percent to 122.01 euros. BNP Paribas, France's second-biggest bank, sank 6.1 percent to 65.15 euros. ING Groep NV, the biggest Dutch investment bank, declined 7.6 percent to 21.66 euros.

``The market is finally catching on to the fact that a recession will lead to a sharp contraction in earnings,'' said Jane Coffey, head of equities at Royal London Asset Management, where she helps oversee about $11 billion. ``We need to see more aggressive changes to forecasts before investors become more positive about looking through the downturn.''

Swiss Reinsurance Co. decreased 8.5 percent to 69.9 Swiss francs. UBS AG cut its share-price estimate for the world's largest reinsurer to 80 francs from 88, citing the probability of more investment losses related to credit-market problems.

Earnings Risk

``We see on-going downside risk to earnings and stock performance until we have better visibility,'' London-based analysts including Ben Cohen wrote in a report to investors.

Bank of China, which has the largest holdings among Asian banks of U.S. subprime mortgages, slid 4.7 percent to HK$3.43. The bank may write down 17.5 billion yuan ($2.4 billion) for the fourth quarter of 2007, and an equal amount for this year, Dorris Chen, a Shanghai-based analyst at BNP Paribas wrote in a note on Jan. 18.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia, the country's second largest, dropped 2.5 percent to A$51.89. National Australia Bank Ltd., the nation's largest, declined 2 percent to A$35.55.

Morgan Stanley raised its 2008 forecast for loan-loss charges at the country's major banks by 26 percent, analyst Richard Wiles wrote in a note today, citing a deteriorating global economy and ``the difficulty faced by some companies in refinancing maturing debt.''

Citigroup, JPMorgan

Citigroup, the biggest U.S. bank by assets, dropped 3.7 percent to $23.56 in Frankfurt. JPMorgan Chase & Co., the second- largest U.S. bank by market value, slid 3.2 percent to $38.30 also in Frankfurt trading.

The slump has made stocks cheap by historical standards. Europe's Stoxx 600 is valued at 11.1 times its companies' profits, the lowest since at least 2002, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The 1,953-member MSCI World has a price- earnings ratio of 14.3, the cheapest since at least 1998.

Rio Tinto Group, the world's third-biggest mining company, dropped after BHP Billiton Ltd. failed to make a new offer. Rio, defending a hostile $108 billion takeover bid from rival mining company BHP, fell 6.6 percent to 4,392 pence.

BHP may not make a new offer before the Feb. 6 deadline set by the U.K.'s Takeover Panel, the London-based Times newspaper reported. The BHP board has not met to discuss a new bid, the newspaper said, after its initial three-for-one all share offer in November was rejected.

Samantha Evans, a BHP spokeswoman in Melbourne, declined to comment. Rio spokeswoman Amanda Buckley also declined to comment.