More than £122.3bn was wiped off the value of Europe’s biggest companies on Monday amid fears that the eurozone’s commitment to austerity was being swept away by political rebellion – just as its debts hit record levels.
The Telegraph | April 23, 2012
Stockmarkets plunged as traders panicked that Angela Merkel could lose her key allies in France and the Netherlands and that the debt crisis rescue plans could unravel.
The Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte, who is one of the eurozone’s “hardliners” on fiscal discipline, dramatically quit in the wake of his coalition’s refusal to accept Europe’s debt pact. Snap elections could be called as early as June.
Traders were also rattled by Francois Hollande’s victory over Nicolas Sarkozy in the first round of the French presidential election. The socialist Mr Hollande has vowed to renegotiate the fiscal pact that including a 3pc of GDP deficit limit.
The political concerns were compounded by data that showed eurozone debt has hit 87.2pc of GDP – the highest level since the launch of the single currency in 1999. Eurostat said that the 17 eurozone members had reduced their deficits from 6.2pc of GDP in 2010 to 4.1pc in 2011 – but overall debt levels had risen by 1.9pc.
Spain, meanwhile, officially sank back into recession as the economy shrank 0.4pc in the first quarter of the year, and German manufacturing shrank at its fastest rate for three years in March. The French composite PMI also fell, according to Markit.
By the end of the day, the Stoxx Europe 600 index has sunk 2.3pc to its lowest level for three months. The German Dax dropped 3.4pc, while France’s CAC and Spain’s Ibex were down 2.8pc each. In London, the FTSE 100 closed down 1.9pc. In the US, the Dow closed down 0.8pc, the S&P 500 lost 0.8pc and the Nasdaq shed 1pc.
Borrowing costs for the core “sinner states” of Spain and Italy rose back towards “unsustainable” levels. French borrowing costs also rose, widening the spread between oats and German bunds to a record 146.9 basis points. The euro fell almost 1pc against the dollar.
The ECB’s bond-buying programme went unused for the sixth week in a row last week, the central bank said. But Brussels moved to reassure markets that the fiscal pact, which Ms Merkel said would “last forever”, was still intact.
The European Commission said the pact was signed by states, not governments. “Governments change but commitments on behalf of states cannot be changed without discussion with European partners,” said the Commission.
The Dutch finance minister, Jans Kees de Jager, insisted his country would stand by its austerity plans. “The Netherlands will retain its solid fiscal policy and will also show the market it will lower its deficit and also have a path of sustainable government finances,” he said.
This article was written by Louise Armitstead.