World markets continued to fall Wednesday, particularly in Asia, as investors worried that Europe's debt crisis would spread, as Greece braced itself for another wave of strikes.
In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was down 13.04 points, or 0.3 percent, at 5,397.14 while Germany's DAX fell 7.95 points, or 0.1 percent, at 5,998.91. The CAC-40 in France was 2.02 points, or 0.1 percent, lower at 3,687.27.
Earlier in Asia, a number of markets slid as investors responded to the sharp declines recorded Tuesday in Europe and the U.S. — Hong Kong's Hang Seng index closed 435.51 points, or 2.1 percent, lower at 20,327.54.
Not much relief is expected from Wall Street when it opens later — Dow futures were up 1 point at 10,893 while the broader Standard & Poor's 500 futures rose 0.5 point at 1,172.90.
The main reason behind the selling pressure continues to be the Greek debt crisis — the weekend's 110 billion euro ($143 billion) bailout package for Greece has done little to assuage market fears that the crisis will spread to other countries like Portugal and Spain.
"Mass protests and strike action in Greece will bring the country to a halt this afternoon, doing sentiment in global markets no favor," said Tim Hughes, head of sales trading at IG Index.
A major casualty of the markets' heightened concerns about possible contagion has been the euro, which earlier dropped to $1.2936, its lowest level for over a year. By mid-morning London time, the euro was flat on the day at $1.2983.
Policymakers would have hoped that the weekend bailout agreement would have helped shore up confidence in the markets following weeks of uncertainty.
Instead, it seems to have generated concerns about the Greek government's ability to push through massive austerity measures in return for the cash. Wednesday's general strike in Greece is unlikely to assuage concerns that the government led by Prime Minister George Papandreou — however sincere — will get the popular backing it needs.
Meanwhile, there are ongoing jitters in the markets that Portugal and Spain may be in the firing line next — both have hefty borrowing levels that need to be brought down this year at the same time as debts have to be repaid.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn, managing director of the IMF, did his best to dampen down speculation that Portugal, in particular, is next in line for a bailout.
"Portugal has been mentioned, but it is already taking measures and the other countries are in a much more solid situation," Strauss-Kahn told Le Parisien newspaper.
For now though, that's not enough to calm down investors who think it's unlikely that the EU or the IMF would be able to fund anyone other than Greece — one bailout maybe acceptable to the powers that be, but two could be stretching it.
As a result, a number of analysts are beginning to think that the European Central Bank will have to get more involved in the crisis to keep Spain and Portugal from being dragged into a debt crisis quagmire like Greece, where market fears led to interest demands so high Athens couldn't borrow any more.
The idea being openly discussed is that the ECB may support bond prices — and the balance sheets of banks holding them — by buying government bonds even though the bank's constitution says it can't directly bail out profligate governments.
Elsewhere, markets will be keeping a close watch on upcoming U.S. data to see if the recovery is on a sure footing — the payrolls firm ADP unveils its monthly survey later while the Institute for Supply Management publishes its monthly survey into the services sector. The big event this week is Friday's nonfarm payrolls data for April.
Earlier in Asia, Australia's index skidded 1.3 percent, while Indonesia's main market dropped 2.6 percent and Taiwan sank 3 percent. China's benchmark Shanghai index, meanwhile, recovered early losses to rise 0.8 percent.
Markets in Japan, South Korea and Thailand were closed for holidays.
Asian countries, which have pared debt since the region's economic crisis of 1997 and 1998, will likely fare better than elsewhere if Europe's debt crisis worsens, DBS said.
Benchmark crude for June delivery was down 25 cents at $82.49 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell $3.45, or 4 percent, to settle at $82.74 on Tuesday.
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