NEW YORK (AFP) — Fears for struggling banks dragged world stock markets down sharply on Friday and fresh data showed eurozone business activity shrivelling as the twin financial and economic firestorms raged on.
The turmoil also claimed its latest victim with the resignation of Latvian Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis, whose once-buoyant ex-Soviet nation has been badly battered by the crisis along with much of Central and Eastern Europe.
US stocks dived at the open of trading, a day after falling to six-year lows, and Europe's main indexes plunged by more than three percent, on concerns over the plight of the battered financial sector.
"Persistent fears about the health of the assets on banks' balance sheets and the uncertainty regarding the future of the nation's largest financial firms are weighing on sentiment," experts at US investment group Charles Schwab & Co said in a report.
CMC Markets dealer Matt Buckland said in London: "Investors are quite simply running out of short-term confidence with equities, especially amongst the banks."
The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 1.11 percent at the open. London's FTSE fell 3.23 percent in afternoon trading, while Paris fell 3.74 percent and Frankfurt was down 4.21 percent.
Shares in major banks fell on Wall Street and in London.
Fresh data meanwhile showed the economic crisis biting ever deeper into Europe with no end in sight, increasing the urgency of a planning meeting on Sunday of the Group of 20 rich and emerging economies.
Business activity in the 16 eurozone nations hit a record low point in February, according to the zone's key purchasing managers' index, compiled by data and research group Markit.
The eurozone figures were "dire, disappointing and worrying," said chief European economist at IHS Global insight in London, Howard Archer.
The "renewed downward lurch" to record low points "undermines hopes that the rate of contraction in eurozone economic activity could be bottoming out."
The global slump in industrial demand hit London-based mining giant Anglo American, which has big interests in South Africa. It reported a 29-percent drop in 2008 net profit and said it would cut 19,000 jobs this year, blaming a sharp fall in commodity prices.
"The breadth and severity of the global economic downturn and its impact on growth rates in key sectors and economies are difficult to overstate," the company's chief executive Cynthia Carroll said in a statement.
"From global automotive production to construction activity in emerging markets, there was a marked contrast between the first and second halves of 2008, when commodity prices fell sharply."
Car output in Britain slumped by 60 percent in January on a 12-month basis, trade data showed. And in Sweden, high-class auto maker Saab, a subsidiary of crippled US giant General Motors, filed for protection from bankruptcy.
Citigroup analyst Giada Giani said in a note that severe weakness in manufacturing was now spreading to other sectors of the economy.
Other data indicated that "labour market conditions are deteriorating very fast" thereby undermining prospects for household consumption.
The euro fell sharply to 1.2616 dollars in London from 1.2673 late on Thursday reflecting gathering alarm about the depth of the downturn in Europe.
"Things are going from bad to worse in Europe," strategist Daisuke Uno at Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation said in Tokyo.
The New York contract oil price fell 1.68 dollars to 37.80 dollars per barrel in London.
In London, the price of gold crept closer to the 1,000-dollar mark, reaching 999.1 dollars an ounce from 980.50 dollars.
As the storm of recession cuts ever deeper across Europe, now threatening financial stability in eastern and central Europe, leaders from the main European economic powers are to meet in Berlin on Sunday
They were to aim to forge a common position for a summit of the G20 group of top world economies in London in April.
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