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World shares slump as negatives pile up

Tuesday, February 04 10:55:37

World shares slumped to a near four-month low today as signs the U.S. economy was stuttering compounded already frayed nerves following a sharp sell-off in emerging markets.

A weaker-than-expected report on U.S. factory activity hurt global equity markets and the dollar yesterday and left investors scurrying for traditional safe-haven assets such the U.S. and German government bonds and the Japanese yen.

It had been another torrid Asian session as traders returning from Lunar New Year holidays got up to pace with the sell-off and European markets looked in no mood to deviate from the downward course.

New falls on all the major bourses saw the pan-European FTSEurofirst start down 0.5 percent, although it was looking almost rosy compared with MSCI's main emerging market index.

It was down another 1.4 percent having fallen 12 percent over the last two months, while MSCI's 45 country all world index dropped to its lowest since early October.

"It does look as if developed market equities are playing catch up with emerging markets," said Societe Generale strategist Kit Juckes.

"The dollar has somewhat run out of steam and I suspect the focus today may well be on yen strength as well as how much further the equity market falls can go."

German government bonds, considered to be one of Europe's most secure investments, saw prices hit a 6-month high while most of the rest of the region lost ground. Despite a sharp jump in Australia's dollar after its central bank appeared to shut the door on further rate cuts, the main focus of the currency market remained the greenback's fading influence over the yen.

Two factors were at play. First, the fall in U.S. bond yields due to the weak data had knocked the dollar. But also a fresh 4 percent on Tokyo's Nikkei stock market overnight had pushed up the yen. The Nikkei often appears to be on a see-saw with the yen, as one goes up the other goes down.

The U.S. dollar was last up 0.2 percent at 101.16 yen staying above Monday's low of 100.77 yen, its lowest level against the Japanese currency since Nov. 21. The euro was at $1.3509, held back by talk the ECB could ease policy this week.