|Page (1) of 1 - 09/30/11||email article||print page|
US stock futures fall ahead of close to quarter driven by euro fears, economic weakness
U.S. stock futures fell Friday as traders prepared to close out what has been the worst quarter since the peak of the financial crisis.
Markets were racked this quarter by escalating fears about a default by Greece. Many European leaders and traders appear convinced that Greece will default in the coming weeks or months. It appears Greece's lenders and neighbors are preparing as best they can to prevent that from causing a worldwide financial panic.
As a result, traders have reacted quickly to news and rumors from Europe. Markets have gyrated wildly in some of the most volatile trading on record. The Dow Jones industrial average swung more than 100 points in more than half of the trading days this quarter.
At 8:55 a.m. Eastern time, Standard & Poor's 500 index futures were down 14 points, or 1.2 percent, at 1,143. Dow futures were down 123, or 1.1 percent, at 10,976. Nasdaq 100 futures were down 22, or 1 percent, at 2,168.
All three major indexes have lost more than 10 percent so far this quarter, for the first time since the financial crisis crested at the end of 2008. The S&P 500 index is down about 12.13 percent from the start of the quarter. That's the most since it fell 22.6 percent the three months ended Dec. 31, 2008.
Those months marked the worst financial disruption in recent history. Banks stopped lending to each other, businesses and consumers. Some of the biggest financial companies failed or were sold to each other in shotgun marriages. The government stepped in with trillions in emergency aid for banks, other financial companies and automakers.
Excluding that unsettling period, the S&P has not dropped this much in a quarter for nine years.
Traders also have responded strongly to U.S. economic data, which has flirted with some positive news but mostly signaled a global slowdown. A recession in the U.S. looks increasingly likely, mainly because of Europe's struggles and an apparent weakness in developing countries that have driven recent global growth.
The government said Friday that consumers spent slightly more last month but earned less for the first time in nearly two years. That suggests that people are tapping their savings to meet higher gas prices and offset lost wages. The savings rate fell to its lowest level since late 2009.
Meanwhile Friday, there were more signs of division in Europe. European Union officials swatted down a proposal by Germany and France to manage their shared currency through meetings of nations' leaders, rather than by a central bureaucracy.
The head of the European Commission, the EU's executive, said the euro must be governed by stronger central institutions.
At issue are the national differences that have prevented leaders from solving the government debt crisis. European nations share a currency but manage their own finances. Reckless spending by Greece and others has threatened the banking system, and will cost those with stronger finances billions in bailout money.
Centralizing Europe's decision-making would help the countries coordinate their borrowing and spending more closely. Some believe that would prevent future crises; others say it would threaten their sovereignty.
Governments in Europe currently are voting on an expanded, more-powerful bailout fund for nations that use the currency. Germany's parliament gave final approval Friday afternoon. Austria's parliament also was set to vote on the new powers.
Key markets in Europe were down more than 2 percent. Asian markets mostly closed lower.