Euro, shares and oil slump over Europe debt fears

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The euro, stocks and oil all slumped Monday as fears that Europe's debt crisis is still not under control rattled global markets.

The euro currency hit a four year low around 1.223 to the dollar ahead of a key European Union finance ministers' meeting in Brussels.

Main global stock markets all suffered. Tokyo fell 2.17 percent as dealers worried about Japanese exporters. London, Frankfurt and Paris were all down more than 0.5 percent in early trading but regained ground as the day wore on.

Oil fell below 70 dollars a barrel at one stage in Asia and has now lost 17 dollars since May 3.

The state of finances in Greece, Spain, Portugal and other European nations has hit confidence despite an EU-International Monetary Fund 110 billion euro rescue package for Greece and the creation of a 750 billion euro fund for all debt stricken nations.

Worries that a possible debt default by Greece could hit the world's financial system in the same way the collapse of Lehman Brothers did two years ago have hit shares and the euro.

European ministers tried to talk down the importance of the euro slump.

French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde said she attached only "very limited importance to those movements" in comments to France Soir newspaper published Monday.

But the pace of the fall of the euro worries some governments. "It is the speed of the depreciation ... the rapidity of this fall which is serious," acknowledged Jean-Pierre Jouyet, head of the French Markets Authority watchdog and a former government minister.

Analysts also highlighted a return of doubts in recent days.

The euro "was previously one of the safe-haven currencies but given the source of many of the concerns is the euro area, with worries still evident about both the potential need for a bail-out at some point in the future and the state of the European banking system, the euro has become more closely linked with risk," said Paul Robinson at Barclays Capital in London.

"The primary concern centres around the view that last week's (EU) announcements are nothing more than a temporary fix and that debt restructuring will have to be part of any lasting solution," said Dermot O'Leary a Dublin-based economist with Goodbody Stockbrokers.

Hideaki Inoue at Mitsubishi UFJ Trust and Banking Corp. commented: "The entire economic outlook is becoming increasingly grim."

On foreign exchange markets, the euro hit 1.2235 dollars in Asian trade -- its lowest since April 2006 -- compared with 1.2358 dollars in New York Friday. The single currency later recovered to 1.2280 dollars in European deals.

International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn on Sunday said that European nations had taken too long to respond to the Greek crisis.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also sent a warning on Sunday that European governments have to do more to control debt and spending.

Last week's rescue package had "done nothing more than to buy time until we have brought order to these competitive differences and to the budget deficits of individual euro countries," she told a trades union conference.

Recent speculation against the euro "is only possible because of huge differences in the economic strengths and debt levels of member states," Merkel said.

Austerity programmes have sparked some violent demonstrations in Greece against the government and up to 15,000 people protested in Madrid on Sunday against spending cuts ordered by Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

© 2010 AFP

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