FRANKFURT, Germany, Aug. 8 (UPI) — European and Asian stocks dropped Monday ahead of Wall Street’s opening bell on Europe’s runaway debt crisis and the U.S. government’s first credit downgrade.
British, German and French stock indexes fell more than 2 percent in early-morning trading following a daylong slide in Asian markets.
In late-afternoon trading Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 index was down nearly 3 percent, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index was down more than 4 percent and Australia’s Standard & Poor’s/ASX 200 index down more than 3 percent.
Seoul’s Korea Composite Stock Price Index plummeted more than 7 percent at one point, prompting the Korea Exchange to briefly suspend program trading.
Futures on the U.S. S&P 500 index were about 2 percent lower early Monday EDT.
The U.S. dollar fell against the Japanese yen and the euro.
The price of gold — considered a safe haven at times of uncertainty — jumped to another record high, topping $1,708 a troy ounce.
Oil dropped more than $3 to less than $84 a barrel.
The European Central Bank said late Sunday it would “actively implement” its bond-buying program to fight the eurozone’s uncontrolled debt crisis and start buying government bonds from Italy and Spain, the zone’s third- and fourth-largest economies and the world’s seventh- and 10th-largest.
The agreement of the bank’s policy-making governing council was viewed as a watershed moment for the ECB. The central bank previously insisted the main responsibility for solving the crisis lay with national governments.
But a more modest bond-buying effort late last week failed to halt the European slide.
To reassure the central bank, France and Germany issued a joint statement late Sunday promising to quickly enact the expanded bailout package for Greece they agreed to July 21.
After the ECB’s decision, the Group of Seven industrial countries of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States — including U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke — held a 2-hour overnight conference call to discuss the European and U.S. crises.
The group later said it was ready to “take all necessary measures to support financial stability and growth.”
Spain was expected Monday to announce new budget cuts and economic reforms to cut government debt by more than $7 billion. Italy promised late Friday to speed up reforms and balance its national budget by 2013, a year ahead of schedule.
The ECB, France and Germany said Sunday night they welcomed the Spanish and Italian efforts to restructure their economies and cut spending, amid growing fears the euro crisis was becoming too big for governments and banks to contain.
The German news magazine Der Spiegel reported Sunday Italy’s financial needs alone were so great that a rescue package would most likely eclipse the capacity of the eurozone’s rescue fund, the European Financial Stability Facility, even if the fund were tripled in size.
An Italian bailout would likely cost $1.4 trillion, with Spain’s requiring $700 billion, Uri Dadush, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told The New York Times Sunday.
U.S. Federal Reserve policymakers were to meet Tuesday. Analysts said the bank’s Federal Open Market Committee had few options left since short-term interest rates were already near zero and couldn’t be lowered further, and long-term rates were also at historic lows, the Times reported.
The Fed could make another series of huge purchases of U.S. government bonds and other assets, but two earlier rounds did little to bolster consumer confidence or economic growth, the Times said.