Asia stocks, euro lower before Cyprus bailout vote

By PAMELA SAMPSON,AP Business Writer Updated at 2013-03-18 05:21:53 +0000


BANGKOK (AP) — Asian stock markets and the euro tumbled Monday as a plan to fund a bailout for Cyprus by taxing its bank deposits raised worries it could spark an exodus of capital from fragile European economies.

The tax is part of a rescue plan for cash-strapped Cyprus that was reached Saturday after talks among officials from countries that use the euro, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank.

Japan's Nikkei 225 index slid 2 percent to 12,312.53. Export shares slid as the yen strengthened against the dollar and the euro.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng dropped 2.1 percent to 22,057.07. South Korea's Kospi shed 0.6 percent to 1,974.32. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 fell 2 percent to 5,015.60. Benchmarks in Singapore, Taiwan, mainland China and the Philippines also fell.

The Cypriot bailout follows those for Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Spanish banks, and it is the first one that dips into people's savings to finance a bailout. Analysts worry the move could roil international markets and jeopardize Europe's fragile economies.

"The market is worried that it may send the wrong message on the safety of bank deposits in other EU nations, just when light appeared to be emerging at the end of the long tunnel for the peripheral nations," analysts at DBS Bank Ltd. in Singapore said in a market commentary.

In a nationally televised speech Sunday, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades urged lawmakers to approve the tax, saying it is essential to save the country from bankruptcy. He also proposed that small depositors be exempt from paying the tax. Lawmakers are due to vote on the plan later Monday. If Parliament rejects the tax, that would put the entire rescue package in jeopardy.

In exchange for 10 billion euros ($13 billion) in rescue money, creditors would impose a one-time tax of 6.75 percent on all bank deposits under 100,000 euros ($131,000) and 9.9 percent over that amount.

Still, Cyprus is a bit player in the European debt crisis, and traders said they expected improved U.S. housing data for February later in the week to rejuvenate markets. The Commerce Department will release housing starts on Tuesday. The National Association of Realtors will release existing home sales on Wednesday.

"This kind of data out of the U.S. should override any issues coming out of Cyprus to lead Asian markets higher," said Evan Lucas, market strategist at IG Markets in Melbourne. "I think you'll see a bit of a pickup in US housing, which should maybe mute some of the issues with Cyprus."

Among individual stocks, Hong Kong-listed Bank of China Ltd. fell 3.1 percent and China Resources Cement Holdings plunged 7.9 percent. Japan's Sony Corp. lost 6 percent.

U.S. stocks fell Friday, ending a 10-day winning streak for the Dow Jones industrial average, its longest in nearly 17 years. Worries about inflation proved to be the impetus for the decline. The government said that consumer prices increased in February at the fastest pace in more than three years.

The Dow dropped 0.2 percent to 14,514.11. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 0.2 percent, to 1,560.70. The Nasdaq composite index dropped 0.3 percent to 3,249.07.

Benchmark oil for April delivery was down 95 cents to $92.50 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 42 cents to finish at $93.45 per barrel on the Nymex on Friday.

In currencies, the euro fell to $1.2894 from $1.3083 late Friday in New York. The dollar fell to 94.74 yen from 95.60 yen.