A trader bites his nail while working the floor of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange
A pledge to stabilise markets from the world's leading economies seemed to stabilise western stocks yesterday, a day after fears over the global economy had sent shares sliding
Finance ministers from the Group of 20 (G20) leading and emerging economies meeting in the US capital pledged to "take all necessary actions to preserve the stability of the banking systems and financial markets" and to make sure banks had the cash they need to pay their day-to-day expenses.
The G20 statement was not much - it mostly reiterated pledges made earlier - but the show of solidarity stemmed losses in Europe. Asian shares, however, continued to fall sharply, with South Korea's Kospi index posting a 5.73 per cent decline.
"The statement from the G20 last night may have taken the edge off the current bitter market sentiment but the reassurances from the finance ministers lack substance," said Jane Foley of Rabobank.
"Until politicians … [move] closer to a solution to the euro-zone debt crisis, markets will continue to worry about a messy and painful outcome."
In Europe, France's CAC-40 was down in early trading but rallied to post gains of 1.02 per cent, while the DAX in Germany rose 0.63 per cent to 5,196.
The FTSE index of leading British shares closed at 5,066, an increase of 0,50 per cent.
In New York, stocks were initially lower, but rose into the black in the afternoon. By mid-afternoon, though, indices had settled near where they began the day. The Dow Jones Industral Average had inched up by 0.09 per cent at 10,743 while the Standard & Poor's 500 was up 0.38 per cent to 1,133.
While worrying about the global economy following the US Federal Reserve's warning earlier this week that the US economy faced sizeable downside risks and a raft of downbeat European and Asian economic indicators, investors continue to keep a close watch on developments in Greece.
"The markets are eagerly awaiting a resolution or, at the minimum, a more rigid strategy to reduce Greece's debt liabilities," said Giles
Watts, the head of equities at City Index.
Bank stocks have led the way down in recent days as investors fret over their potential exposure to the debts of Greece. Those fears have become more acute as the markets increasingly price in the likelihood of a Greek default.
Athens has had a series of meetings with its creditors this week to try to avoid that, but it's unclear whether it will be able to dig itself out of its debt hole, even with the help of billions from the EU and the IMF.
Those concerns have knocked confidence in the euro over the past week or two. After Thursday's plunge it was trading a little bit steadier, up 0.1 per cent at US$1.3478.
Jean-Pierre Jouyet, the head of the French market authority AMF, told France Inter radio, "The situation is very, very worrying. We are in a worldwide situation of crisis", he pointed to debt in Japan, "imbalances" in the US, and Europe's sovereign debt troubles.
Joaquin Almunia, who runs the department in the EU's executive commission that has to clear bank bailouts, suggested this week one of those measures may be to extend crisis rules that make it easier for governments to rescue failing lenders. He also said even banks that passed stress tests this summer may need to raise more money.
Amid these continuing concerns, benchmark oil fell 27 cents to $80.24.
Earlier in Asia, Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 1.3 per cent to 17,668.80 after losing almost 5 per cent the day before. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 index fell 1.5 per cent to 3,903.20.
Mainland China's Shanghai Composite Index lost 0.4 per cent to 2,433.16. Japan's market was closed for a holiday.