Major stock markets fell and the euro slumped to a four-month low against the dollar on Wednesday, hit by a disappointing Italian bond auction and concern about a wider impact on the eurozone from Cyprus's bailout.
Bleak eurozone economic data added to a sour tone in markets, driving demand for safe-haven assets. U.S. Treasuries debt prices jumped, with benchmark yields falling to their lowest levels in three weeks and German Bunds also gained. Gold rose above $1,600 an ounce.
At a debt auction on Wednesday, Italy paid more to borrow over five years than it has since October as lack of progress in forming a new government and worries about Cyprus hurt demand. Cypriot banks are due to reopen on Thursday.
Cyprus is putting the final touches on capital control measures to prevent a run on banks after the country agreed to a bailout deal that will wipe out some senior bank bondholders and impose losses on large depositors.
The worry among investors is that despite attempts by some officials to dismiss the idea, the plan could become a blueprint for any future eurozone bailout.
"The overhang of the Cypriot bailout, and especially its implications for eurozone-wide banking depositors, along with a dip in confidence and lacklustre Italian debt auctions, have upset the apple cart for U.S. investors determined to assault record stock market highs," said Andrew Wilkinson, chief economic strategist at Miller Tabak + Co, LLC in New York.
U.S. stocks ended slightly lower after a rally on Monday propelled the S&P 500 to within striking distance of an all-time closing high.
The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 33.49 points, or 0.23 percent, to close at 14,526.16. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index fell 0.92 points, or 0.06 percent, to end at 1,562.85. The Nasdaq Composite Index gained 4.04 points, or 0.12 percent, to 3,256.52.
MSCI's index of world shares, which tracks 6000 stocks in 45 countries, fell 0.2 percent to 358.71 points. European shares dropped 0.4 percent to end at 1,184.06 points, a three-week closing low.
Benchmark U.S. 10-year Treasury notes were up 18/32 in price to yield 1.8471 percent.
The euro fell as low as $1.2750, the weakest since Nov. 21, and traded at $1.2772 late in the New York day, down 0.7 percent from Tuesday.
"Rising Italian borrowing costs and its political situation are both negatives," said Greg Anderson, G10 strategist at Citigroup in New York. "Investors are not overly short the euro, so there is plenty of scope for the euro to test the lows of the past cycle."
Data on Wednesday showed confidence in the eurozone's economy fell more than expected in March after four straight months of gains. Other reports showed a slump in Italian manufacturing and retail sales and contraction in France's economy at the end of last year.
The dollar was little changed at 94.43 yen, while the dollar index, which tracks the greenback versus a basket of major currencies, rose to a more than seven-month high of 83.302 . The index was last up 0.4 percent at 83.247.
German government Bund futures, an asset that investors value in times of increased tension, rose 75 ticks, their biggest jump since inconclusive Italian elections last month rattled markets.
Gold rebounded from early losses, with spot gold rising to $1,604.70 an ounce from $1,598.59 on Tuesday, as investors piled money into safe-haven investments.
Brent crude rose 33 cents to settle at $109.69 a barrel in choppy trade and U.S. crude futures gained 24 cents to settle at $96.58.
News of fire alarms going off at Imperial Oil Ltd's site of its 121,000 barrel per day refinery near Sarnia, Ontario, sparked U.S. crude to turn higher in the hour ahead of settlement. Imperial later said the refinery was unaffected by the fire.
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