World stocks fall amid economy, Europe pessimism

BANGKOK (AP) — World stock markets were mostly lower Wednesday amid mixed signals on global economic prospects and pessimism Europe’s government debt crisis can be tamed.

Oil prices hovered above $87 a barrel after a report on U.S. crude inventories gave ambiguous signs about the strength of consumer demand. The dollar was lower against the yen but up against the euro.

European shares opened lower amid waning hopes for bold action to curtail an escalating sovereign debt crisis.

Britain’s FTSE 100 lost 0.7 percent to 5,319.12 and Germany’s DAX was 0.7 percent down to 5,955.28. France’s CAC-40 slipped 0.1 percent to 3,226.32.

Wall Street was headed for a muted start, with Dow Jones industrial futures little changed at 11,386 and S&P 500 futures flat at 1,192.40.

In Asia, Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 index sank 0.6 percent to close at 9,057.26 as a strengthening yen dragged down the country’s vital export sector.

Toyota Motor Corp. lost 1.5 percent and rival Honda Motor Corp. slid 2.5 percent. Conglomerate Hitachi Ltd. lost 2.8 percent and consumer electronics giant Sony was down 0.8 percent.

South Korea’s Kospi, which tumbled last week amid massive foreign selling, rose 0.7 percent to 1,892.67.

Mainland Chinese shares edged lower as investors fretted over possible monetary tightening measures and the debt problems among European countries using the euro common currency.

The Shanghai Composite Index fell 0.3 percent to 2,601.26. The Shenzhen Composite Index likewise slipped 0.3 percent to 1,163.87.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index rose 0.4 percent to 20,289.03, buoyed by Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang’s pledge to expand the role of Hong Kong as an offshore trading center for China’s yuan currency.

Beijing is trying to reduce reliance on the dollar by promoting the yuan for trade and finance. It has been promoting Hong Kong, a Chinese territory with its own currency, as an offshore market for foreigners to conduct yuan business separate from the mainland, which is kept isolated from global capital flows.

Stocks around the world lost their steam Tuesday after muted German growth figures reinforced fears over the global economy.

On Wall Street, the Dow dropped 0.7 percent to 11,405.93. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 1 percent to 1,192.76. The Nasdaq composite fell 1.2 percent to 2,523.45.

U.S. economic reports Tuesday were mixed. Housing remains weak, but factory output rose last month at its fastest pace since an earthquake in Japan disrupted global manufacturing in March.

Europe’s economy and debt troubles have been among global investors’ main concerns over the last year and a half. Some European countries have borrowed so much that they may need help repaying debt.

Investors who believe the global economy is headed toward a significant slowdown have shunned stocks and piled up cash in the past month, a BoA Merrill Lynch survey of fund managers for August showed. A total of 176 fund managers with $551 billion in assets participated in the global survey.

“Cash holdings have soared to their highest levels since the depths of the credit crisis as investors have moved out of equities,” BoA Merrill Lynch said. Global investors hold an average of 5.2 percent of their portfolios in cash, up from 4.1 percent in July, it said.

The survey — conducted Aug. 5-11, when world equities fell 12.3 percent — showed fund managers scaling back equity positions faster than in any previous month in the survey’s history. A net 2 percent remain overweight equities, down from a net 35 percent in July, BoA Merrill Lynch said.

In energy trading, benchmark oil for September delivery was up 91 cents to $87.56 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Crude fell $1.23 to settle at $86.65 on Monday.

In London, Brent crude for October delivery was up 82 cents to $109.95 per barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.

The euro dropped to $1.4380 from $1.4397 late Tuesday in New York. The dollar slipped to 76.59 yen from 76.78 Japanese yen.

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