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Stocks fall, gold surges on new Europe fears

October 25, 2011 |  2:22 pm

Wall Street bulls retreated Tuesday amid worries that European leaders have failed to reach agreement on key elements of a new plan to end their debt crisis.

A jump in investors’ fear level showed in the gold and Treasury-bond markets, as the metal’s price surged and bond yields tumbled.

The Dow Jones industrial average sank 207 points, or 1.7%, to close at 11,706.62, as stocks fell broadly after rising Monday to their highest levels since early August.

If investors needed a reason to take profits after the surprising October rally, Europe provided a suitable excuse: The market weakened early in the day after a meeting of European Union finance ministers set for Wednesday was canceled.

Yet authorities said a planned meeting of EU heads of state would proceed. The EU leaders’ summit has been expected to produce the framework for bolstering the continent’s banks and boosting the firepower of the $600-billion rescue fund for Eurozone member states.

Reports from Europe said leaders were still bickering over key points, including the amount of Greek government debt that European banks would forgive, and whether the European Central Bank would be urged to continue buying government bonds to pull down interest rates.

That raises the prospect that the summit will be short on details and long on promises -- which could stoke new fears of another market rout in Europe.

Investors’ jitters drove gold up $48.10, or 2.9%, to $1,699.60 an ounce in New York, a five-week high. Money also poured into U.S. Treasury bonds, pushing the 10-year T-note yield down to a two-week low of 2.11% from 2.24% on Monday.

On Wall Street, the Russell 2,000 small-stock index fell 3% after rising 3.3% on Monday, when it broke out of the trading range where it had been stuck for the last two months.

But U.S. markets seemed more nervous than their European counterparts. European stocks suffered only modest declines, losing 1% to 1.5%. And the euro was steady at $1.391.

U.S. stocks have surged since Oct. 3, as investors have been pleasantly surprised by data suggesting that the U.S. economy continues to expand, if moderately. The Dow is up 9.9% since Oct. 3.

Yet many investors remain sidelined, fearful that the rally could melt away in a hurry.

On Tuesday, a monthly report on consumer confidence showed a dive this month to the lowest levels since March 2009, in the depths of the recession. Some analysts, however, noted that even as consumers say they’re gloomy, they’ve continued to spend.

On Thursday the government will report its first estimate of third-quarter economic growth. A survey of economists by Bloomberg News shows the average estimate is for an annualized growth rate of 2.5%, which would be a big improvement from the 1.3% rate of the second quarter.


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-- Tom Petruno

Photo: The European Union flag flies in front of the German parliament building in Berlin. Credit: Kay Nietfeld / EPA