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'New stage' of world jitters

A stockbroker reacts while trading at a brokerage in Bombay, India, Friday. Indian TV dubbed it a “black Friday” and the nation’s central bank said economic growth could slow to 7.5 percent this year.

Associated Press

A stockbroker reacts while trading at a brokerage in Bombay, India, Friday. Indian TV dubbed it a “black Friday” and the nation’s central bank said economic growth could slow to 7.5 percent this year.

WASHINGTON — Pessimism about the global economy deepened Friday as fresh evidence of a worldwide slowdown showed up in feeble corporate profit reports from Asia, sinking commodities prices, and a scramble by emerging economies to prop up their sagging currencies and avert credit defaults.

The signs of trouble popped up around the globe. Japanese giants Sony and Toyota, as well as South Korea's Samsung, the world's largest maker of memory chips, flat-screen televisions and liquid crystal displays, posted weakened profits and sales outlooks. Toyota's quarterly sales fell for the first time in seven years. Britain reported its first economic contraction since 1992.

Gloom about economic growth translated to low expectations for oil consumption. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries Friday announced a cut of 1.5-million barrels a day in output — a move that still failed to arrest the slide in crude prices. Copper prices fell to a three-year low.

Investors around the world fled stocks and rushed to the relative safety of the U.S. dollar by pouring money into 30-year Treasury bonds, a refuge in times of uncertainty. That drove down the value of foreign currencies.

"I think we're moving into a new stage," said Simon Johnson, former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund and now a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "There is the danger of ever-widening spheres of disruption."

The IMF stepped up its efforts to contain the expanding crisis, agreeing to a $2.1-billion rescue program with Iceland, whose financial meltdown triggered big losses for German and British banks. Belarus, Pakistan, Hungary and Ukraine have also asked the IMF for emergency loans.

Once again, fear gripped many of the world's stock markets Friday. Japan's Nikkei index plunged 9.6 percent; India's benchmark index dropped 11 percent; Brazil's Bovespa index fell 6.9 percent; and Germany's DAX index fell to its lowest level since October 1989.

In Japan, bellwether companies led the way down. Sony, the world's second-largest consumer electronics company, fell 12 percent after its weak earnings report, in which it also sharply cut its profit forecast. Canon, the world's biggest maker of digital cameras, dropped 9 percent. Korea's Kospi index was down 20 percent for the week; Samsung fell 14 percent Friday alone.

In India, television news called it a "black Friday" as bearish investors were undeterred by the run-up to the most auspicious Hindu festival of good fortunes, Diwali, which is Tuesday.

While the fall in U.S. markets was less pronounced there were continuing signs of investor skittishness. Premiums on borrowing by most corporations remained prohibitively high.

Since Sept. 1, about $16.3-trillion worth of global stock market value has been erased. Although a drop in oil prices has put more money into the hands of consumers worldwide, analysts fear that the shrinking size of stock portfolios and falling house values will constrain consumer spending anyway.

Tobias Levkovich, a Citigroup equity strategist, said lower gasoline prices would act like a more than $150-billion stimulus for U.S. consumers. But that could be more than offset by a shrinking sense of wealth, especially among the top 20 percent of wage earners, who account for the bulk of equity investments and 40 percent of consumer spending.

Also, at the corporate level, there are already indications of fewer purchases of software, telecommunications equipment and services, and computer hardware. On Thursday, Microsoft predicted recessionary pressures in the months ahead and said it would slow hiring and cut expenses, particularly costs associated with data centers.

Lower consumer and corporate spending in the United States is likely to ripple around the world.

"The global turmoil has had an indirect knock-down effect on India," Duvvuri Subbarao, the governor of the Reserve Bank of India, said at a press conference at which he lowered India's growth projection to 7.5 percent for this year.

Brokers in Asia warned that this could be just the beginning of steep declines in the stock prices of major companies that depend on exports to the United States and Europe for much of their profit. "If Sony's earnings are that bad, other firms' earnings could also be considerably grim, and this is alarming investors ahead of earnings reports next week," Tsuyoshi Segawa, a strategist at Shinko Securities, told the Kyodo news service in Tokyo.

'New stage' of world jitters 10/24/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 3, 2010 5:17pm]
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