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European stocks, euro slide on eurozone tensions

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

European stock markets slumped and the euro dropped under $1.28 for the first time in four months Wednesday owing to concerns over fallout from the Cyprus bailout and a disappointing bond sale in Italy, analysts said.

London's FTSE 100 index of leading companies fell 0.69 percent to stand at 6,355.10 points in afternoon deals, as Frankfurt's DAX 30 shed 1.44 percent to 7,766.11 points and in Paris the CAC 40 slumped 1.46 percent to 3,693.95 points.

Madrid tumbled 1.90 percent and Milan lost 1.59 percent. The Athens stock exchange, a low volume market, plunged 6.83 percent.

Italian borrowing rates fell slightly in a 10-year debt auction on Wednesday, but borrowing rates were higher for five-year debt and demand was weak amid concerns of political deadlock in the recession-hit country following inconclusive elections.

Stock indices were falling "as the ongoing issues in Cyprus continue to weigh on sentiment," said Alpari trading group analyst Craig Erlam.

In foreign exchange deals, the euro dropped to $1.2751 -- the lowest level since November 21 -- compared with $1.2861 late in New York on Tuesday.

Gold prices slipped to $1,591 an ounce from $1,598 Tuesday on the London Bullion Market.

The foreign exchange market "is concerned about medium-term contagion effects" of the Cyprus bailout, said Commerzbank analyst Thu Lan Nguyen.

Troubled eurozone nation Cyprus on Wednesday scrambled to finalise capital controls to avert a run on banks, a day before they are due to reopen after a nearly two-week lockdown while the island secured a huge bailout.

Meanwhile there are fears that the controversial terms of the bailout could be mirrored in any future financial rescues of indebted eurozone members.

Nicosia early Monday agreed a last-minute deal with its international lenders that will see it receive a $13 billion rescue package to help pay its bills.

And while the decision to tax bank savings above 100,000 euros raised fears of a similar move in future rescues -- reinforced by comments from the head of the Eurogroup of finance ministers -- officials have since insisted that Cyprus is a special case.

"The negative sentiment is also enhanced by rumours that this format will be adopted as a template for any further bailout schemes," said Currencies Direct trader Amir Khan.

"Although top officials deny any such move in the future, markets are still wary that this format will leave the banks with fewer deposits and in turn will allow them to lend less, shrinking growth."

Elsewhere on Wednesday, in indebted eurozone member Italy there was weak demand at an auction of 5- and 10-year bonds, with bid-to-cover ratios of 1.2 and 1.3.

Ratios of above 2.0, where submitted bids are double those accepted, are considered strong.

The Italian treasury took in 3.91 billion euros at a rate of 3.65 percent, a five-month high.

However the yield on 10-year bonds dipped 4.66 percent, compared with 4.83 percent at the last similar auction on February 27, with three billion euros raised.

The European Commission meanwhile said its key business and consumer confidence index for the eurozone fell 1.1 points in March to 90 points, reflecting a downturn in the manufacturing and service sectors while consumer sentiment was steady overall.

Amid the gloom in Europe, US stocks moved lower Wednesday in early trading.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average gave up 0.33 percent, the broad-based S&P 500 sank 0.36 percent, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index dropped 0.26 percent.

The retreat followed strong gains Tuesday that resulted in a record high for the Dow and a near-all-time high to the S&P 500.

"Follow-through has been lacking this morning for reasons that are both convenient and clear," Patrick O'Hare of Briefing.com wrote. "Headlines out of Europe are largely to blame."

-- Dow Jones Newswires contributed to this report ---

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