World markets slide again despite shock rate cuts

LONDON (AP) _ World stock markets swooned once more Wednesday as concerns about the state of the global economy outweighed a coordinated rate cut by top central banks aimed restoring confidence in the world’s crisis-stricken financial system. Stock markets initially took heart in the news the U.S. Federal Reserve, the Bank of England, the European Central Bank and others had cut their key interest rates by a half-percentage point. But the rally soon dissipated amid severe stresses in lending markets. “The coordinated interest rate cuts got the ‘thumbs down’ from equity markets, suggesting we have not yet turned the corner in this financial crisis,” said John Higgins, senior markets economist at Capital Economics. Central banks in Brazil and Mexico, meanwhile, intervened to prop up their local currencies, which have come under severe pressure as investors flee for safer havens. The FTSE 100 index of leading UK shares initially rose, then slid back into the red, closing down 238.53, or 5.2 percent, at 4,366.69. France’s CAC-40 lost 235.33 points, or 6.3 percent, to 3,496.89, while Germany’s DAX finished 313.01 points, or 5.9 percent, weaker at 5,013.62. In the U.S., major indexes spent much of the afternoon in positive territory before retreating at the last minutes of trading, leaving the Dow Jones industrials down 189.01 points, or 2 percent, at 9,258.10. The coordinated rate cuts were intended to send a strong message as well as keep the credit crisis from further damaging the wider economy as companies struggle to borrow for everyday and long-term needs. Fearful banks are refusing to lend to one another and markets in commercial paper, or short-term unsecured company debt, have been frozen. The Fed reduced its key rate from 2 percent to 1.5 percent, while the Bank of England cut its base lending rate by half a point to 4.5 percent, and the ECB, which last week decided to keep borrowing costs on hold, cut to 3.75 percent. Other central banks also taking part include the banks of Canada, Sweden, and Switzerland. China also cut by .27 percentage point but did not join in the group statement that accompanied the decision. The Bank of Japan backed the statement but did not cut as its rate is only 0.5 percent. “I’m afraid sentiment and uncertainty are so adverse and great at the moment, the markets will remain in unforgiving mood,” said Howard Wheelman, senior strategist at BGC Partners. “No one is prepared to stick their necks out,” he added. The Wednesday cuts came as markets in Asia and Europe had taken another battering and Britain stepped in with 50 billion pounds ($87.5 billion) for the government to support banks by taking stakes, while Russia closed its main stock market for two days. The selling tide was so huge that the Paris stock exchange briefly suspended calculating the benchmark CAC-40 index amid a massive influx of sell orders that caused it to plummet nearly 8.2 percent at one stage. And Moscow’s MICEX stock exchange, where most of Russia’s trading takes place, announced it is shutting until Friday after opening with steep losses. The MICEX index dropped more than 14 percent in the first half-hour of trading Wednesday. The RTS exchange, whose index is widely considered the benchmark of Russia’s markets, fell more than 11 percent in the first 30 minutes and suspended trading until further notice. Stock markets in the Middle East pared losses after the rate cuts. The benchmark CASE 30 index on the Cairo and Alexandria Stock Exchange rebounded from a midmorning plunge of 11.7 percent to close down 7.09 percent. In Latin America, a sell-off in currency markets added to the initial plunge in share values, which are reported in local currencies, prompting the central banks of Brazil and Mexico to auction off billions of dollars. Chile’s IPSA index tumbled 4.5 percent to 2,239, while Brazil’s Ibovespa closed down 3.9 percent to 38,594 âÄî its lowest close since Oct. 9, 2006. Argentina’s Merval shed 1.8 percent to 1,359 and Mexico’s IPC index fell 1 percent to 20,679. Overnight, anxious investors sent Asian markets sharply lower with Tokyo in free-fall, with the benchmark Nikkei 225 stock average plunging 9.4 percent âÄî its biggest drop in 21 years âÄî to 9,203.32, a five-year low. “No one knows the bottom of the ongoing financial crisis, and investors were really spooked by growing uncertainty over the global credit crisis,” said Kazuhiro Takahashi, general manager at Daiwa Securities SMBC Co. Ltd. Hong Kong’s blue chip Hang Seng index shed 8.2 percent. Markets in South Korea and Taiwan boh fell 5.8 percent, and Indonesia’s stock market was shut down for the day after it fell more than 10 percent. Australia’s benchmark S&P/ASX200 closed down 5 percent, wiping out gains Tuesday after the country’s central bank cut its key interest rate by a bigger-than-expected 1 percentage point.