World stocks fall after Reid 'cliff' comments; yen down

NEW YORK (Reuters) - World stocks slipped on Thursday after comments from the U.S. Senate majority leader that the economy may be poised to go off the "fiscal cliff," while the yen hit a two-year low on expectations of aggressive monetary stimulus.

Democrat Harry Reid criticized Republicans for refusing to go along with any tax increases as part of a U.S. budget remedy and said the economy seemed to be heading over the "fiscal cliff" of impending tax hikes and spending cuts.

Economists warn that the $600 billion in higher taxes and spending cuts set to kick in from January could push the world's largest economy into recession, dragging other countries with it.

U.S. stocks fell to session lows after Reid's comment, while world stocks dipped into negative territory.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average .DJI was down 105.04 points, or 0.80 percent, at 13,009.55. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index .SPX was down 13.70 points, or 0.96 percent, at 1,406.13. The Nasdaq Composite Index .IXIC was down 29.35 points, or 0.98 percent, at 2,960.80.

Shares of U.S. retailers fell for a second day following the Christmas holiday. The Morgan Stanley retail index .MVR was down 1.5 percent while the SPDR S&P Retail Trust (XRT.P) lost 1.3 percent.

The MSCI global index .MIWD00000PUS was last down 0.4 percent, while European shares .FTEU3 ended down 0.04 percent.

"Unfortunately, a term all of us are sick of hearing - the 'fiscal cliff' - appears to be dominating all aspects of the financial market and consumer confidence," said Joe Heider, principal at Rehmann Financial in Cleveland, Ohio.

U.S. President Barack Obama is traveling back to Washington on Thursday, cutting short his holiday to try to get a budget deal with Republican lawmakers.


The dollar rose to 85.92 yen, its highest since August 2010. It was last up 0.4 percent on the day at 85.91 yen with option barriers cited at 86 yen and stop-loss buy orders above 86.10 yen.

Investors accelerated their yen sales after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said his newly formed government would pursue a bold monetary policy, a flexible fiscal policy and a growth strategy to encourage private investment.

The yen has fallen roughly 10.5 percent versus the dollar in 2012, its biggest annual drop since 2005. At the same time, Japan's benchmark Nikkei is now up 22 percent for the year.

"Yen weakness, based on expectations that the new Japanese government will succeed in driving the dollar to 90 yen with a combination of more aggressive monetary and fiscal policy, is offering support to other currencies," said Marc Chandler, global head of currency strategy at Brown Brothers Harriman in New York.

The euro touched New York lows of $1.3214 following Reid's comments. It last stood at $1.3215, flat to slightly lower on the day.

The euro tends to benefit when U.S. budget negotiations run smoothly, but when there are snags, investor flows go into the safe-haven and highly liquid dollar.


Prices on longer-dated U.S. Treasuries were higher. The bond market began trimming its decline earlier on data that showed a bigger-than-expected drop in American consumer confidence in December, spurring worries about flagging consumer spending causing a U.S. recession.

Benchmark 10-year Treasuries prices were 10/32 higher in price, yielding 1.7147 percent, compared with being down by 2/32 before the confidence data and Reid's remarks.

Oil prices eased in choppy trading as the unresolved U.S. budget left open the possibility that looming mandated tax hikes and spending cuts could push the economy of the No. 1 oil consuming nation into recession.

Brent February fell 67 cents to $110.40 a barrel, while U.S. February crude was down 23 cents at $90.75 a barrel.

(Additional reporting by Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss, Robert Gibbons, Richard Leong and Chuck Mikolajczak in New York; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Dan Grebler)

Updated Date: Dec 28, 2012 00:47 AM

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