LONDON -- World stocks and metal prices fell on Thursday after bleak data and poor corporate earnings stoked gloom about the economic outlook, while sterling eased against the dollar before the Bank of England's interest rate decision.
Government bonds returned to favor as global stocks as measured by the MSCI world index shed 1.1 percent, with the pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 losing 0.8 percent and Tokyo's Nikkei average down 3.9 percent.
"The market might have enjoyed a wave of asset reallocation in favor of equities in the first few sessions of 2009, but despite a drop in volatility so far this year, uncertainties remain, and the news flow from both the micro and the macro fronts is not improving," said Benoit De Broissia, analyst at KBL Richelieu, in Paris.
Technology shares were under fire after Intel Corp. on Wednesday cut its fourth quarter sales forecast for the second time.
EMC Corp., the world's biggest maker of data storage equipment for businesses, also said it plans to cut 2,400 jobs, or 6.0 percent of its staff, to help weather the global recession.
The financial crisis, triggered by a meltdown in the US subprime mortgage market, has spread far and wide, with the ensuing economic slowdown leading to higher unemployment and slowing exports.
German exports posted a record fall in November, as demand for cars and others mainstays of the manufacturing economy plummeted, compounding worries about the country's already bleak 2009 outlook.
Adding to the grim outlook for the region, European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet said in a magazine interview published on Wednesday that there had been a significant deterioration in the euro zone economy in the last couple of months.
The euro fell 0.6 percent to $1.3566. Sterling also retreated against the dollar, shedding about half a percentage point before the Bank of England's interest rate verdict at 1200 GMT.
The BoE is expected to cut interest rates by at least half a percentage point from 2.0 percent as it battles to keep the UK economy from falling into a deep and protracted downturn. Even a half point easing would leave rates at a record low.
METALS SINK, OIL UP
Oil prices rose above $43 a barrel on escalating violence in the Middle East, after tumbling overnight.
Three rockets fired from Lebanon exploded in northern Israel on Thursday, the first since the Jewish state launched an offensive in Gaza two weeks ago, Israeli police said. Metal prices, however, headed south on concerns over demand in a tough economic environment. Safe-haven government bonds were in better demand as stocks retreated, with yields on benchmark 10-year US Treasuries tightening 3 basis points and the 10-year Bund narrowing 4 basis points.
In the corporate debt side, the Markit iTraxx Crossover index, made up of 50 mostly "junk"-rated credits, was 987 basis points, 14 basis points wider versus late on Wednesday.
Citigroup said the battle between dire fundamentals and cheap valuations in equities would be a defining theme of 2009.
"Neither will win out over the year, but it will be a volatile ride. This suggests trading-range markets," it said in a note, adding that it preferred European equities to Asia, and kept the US "neutral," while favored defensive over cyclical sectors.