World Shares Down as Japan Crisis Defies Control
World markets were lower Tuesday, following a late-day slide on Wall Street and more bad news from Japan as it raced to stop a radiation leak from a nuclear power plant damaged in an earthquake nearly three weeks ago.
Oil prices extended losses below $104 a barrel amid territorial gains by Libyan rebels seeking to topple Moammar Gadhafi and restart crude exports from the OPEC nation. The dollar was lower against the euro and little changed versus the yen.
Bourses in Europe dropped in early trading as investors saw trouble on the horizon and shunned riskier assets like stocks. Britain's FTSE was 0.1 percent lower to 5,898.57. Germany's DAX dropped 0.2 percent to 6,925.73, and France's CAC-40 was 0.2 percent down to 3,968.47.
Wall Street — anticipating crucial jobs and manufacturing reports later in the week — appeared set to go higher, with Dow Jones industrial futures up 38 points to 12,152 and S&P 500 futures 4.4 points higher to 1,306.60.
Ben Potter, market strategist with IG Markets in Melbourne, said a new catalyst was needed to spur buying and U.S. economic indicators this week may serve that purpose.
"This may come in the form of continuing upbeat data out of the U.S., potentially starting this Friday with the non-farm payrolls report. The upcoming Q1 earnings season in the U.S. could also be a major catalyst if reports beat street expectations," Potter said.
Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 index closed down 0.2 percent at 9,459.08 as highly toxic plutonium leaked from the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant, which was crippled when a towering tsunami barreled into the facility on March 11.
The Japanese government conceded it has struggled to stabilize the reactor ever since the tsunami, which was spawned by the biggest earthquake ever to strike Japan.
China's Shanghai Composite Index slipped 0.9 percent to 2,958.08 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng index was narrowly down to 23,060.36.
Shares in Hitachi Ltd. and Toshiba Corp., which build nuclear power plants, fell 0.3 percent and 0.8 percent respectively in Tokyo. Shares in Japanese companies expecting to play a major role in rebuilding the country's quake-shattered northeast also drooped as the government remained preoccupied with the nuclear crisis. Nishimatsu Construction Co. Ltd. plunged 3 percent and Hitachi Construction Machinery Co. Ltd. was down 1.7 percent.
South Korea's Kospi was 0.8 percent higher to 2,072.13. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.5 percent to 4,755.80 in light trading. Energy Resources of Australia Ltd., which produces uranium, dropped 3.7 percent amid fears Japan's nuclear crisis will reduce demand for the radioactive element used in nuclear fuel and weapons.
In New York on Monday, stocks closed with slight losses after falling in the last half-hour of trading. Major indexes had been up for most of the day after several economic reports suggested that the recovery is continuing amid rising consumer spending and pending home sales.
Crucial reports were to be released on Wall Street later this week, including Friday's U.S. nonfarm payrolls report for March, which often sets the market tone and is of particular interest amid signs that the Federal Reserve is gauging when to tighten its super-loose monetary policy.
On Tuesday, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 0.2 percent to 12,197.88. The broader S&P 500 index lost 0.3 percent, to 1,310.19. The Nasdaq composite fell 0.5 percent to 2,730.68. Each index had been up more than 0.4 percent earlier in the day.
Benchmark crude for May delivery was down 50 cents to $103.48 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract dropped $1.42 on Monday to settle at $103.98.
The euro rose to $1.4122 from $1.4097. The dollar was little changed at 81.70 yen.