European stocks plunged by about 5.0 percent in mid afternoon trading on Monday, hit by acute tension over the risk of recession in leading economies and over eurozone debt.
Bonds issued by Greece and Italy fell, and the cost of insuring against default by Italy and France, as indicated by the market for credit default swap (CDS) instruments, rose sharply. The euro fell below 1.41 dollars. The price of gold jumped back above $1,900 an ounce on demand for a safe haven investment.
The head of the ECB Jean-Claude Trichet warned of an immediate and imperative need for enactment of a second debt rescue for Greece, and for tightened discipline in the management of eurozone economies. He also spoke of an eventual "confederal" disciplined management of eurozone national finances. And the head of the IMF Christine Lagarde repeated her warning that banks in Europe need extra capital to withstand any contagion from the eurozone debt crisis.
The move against stocks was exacerbated by a decision by US authorities to take legal action against 17 leading international banks over trading in securitised mortgage trading at the heart of the 2008 financial crisis, traders said. Bank shares fell heavily in Europe.
German stocks were down by nearly 6.0 percent, while in London, the FTSE index fell by 3.06 percent to 5,129.97 points. The Frankfurt stock market was showing a fall of 5.55 percent from the closing level on Friday to 5,230.84 points on the DAX index with Deutsche Bank shares down 9.59 percent. In Paris the CAC 40 index was down 5.10 percent to 2,987.96 points and in Milan, the FTSE Mib index was showing a fall of 5.30 percent to 14,263 points.
The US legal moves are aimed at recouping billions of dollars lost in the financial crisis. "The US decided to drop a bombshell on the banking sector ahead of their extended weekend by announcing a $200-billion (141-billion-euro) lawsuit across the whole industry for the miss selling of mortgage backed assets, the dreaded subprime loans," said Simon Denham, head of London-based trading group Capital Spreads.
US firms targeted in the suits included Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, General Electric, Ally Financial and First Horizon. The foreign banks were Deutsche Bank, HSBC, Credit Suisse, Barclays, Nomura, Royal Bank of Scotland and Societe Generale.
Traders also continued to digest weak US data from late last week. The jobs data for August were the worst since September 2010, when the economy shed more than twice the number of jobs it created. The pace of job growth remains far below the numbers needed to reduce the high unemployment rate.