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World stock market tally for August: 2 up, 43 down

September 1, 2011 | 12:33 pm

As many investors might suspect, there was almost nowhere to hide last month in world stock markets.

Just two of 45 markets tracked by Standard & Poor’s Indices rose for the month: Morocco (up 3.1%) and Peru (up 1.8%).

S&P measures all market returns in dollars, meaning the gains or losses are what U.S. investors would have experienced. That reflects both the actual change in share prices plus the effect of any change in the dollar’s value versus other currencies.

A weaker dollar can reduce foreign market losses or boost net gains for U.S. investors. A stronger dollar can worsen foreign losses or reduce net gains.

Market charts around the globe looked pretty much the same for August: Most markets followed U.S. and European stocks off the cliff in the first week of August on rising fears of recession and as Europe’s government debt crisis worsened yet again.

Sp831 Many markets bottomed around the same time that Wall Street did, on Aug. 8. The S&P 500 index (charted at left) closed at 1,119.46 that day, its lowest level since Sept. 10.

Even as share prices have clawed higher from last month’s lows, they were able to recoup only a portion of what was lost in the early-August meltdown.

The S&P 500 index lost 5.7% in August, its worst monthly decline since it slumped 8.2% in May 2010. The index was off 3.1% year to date through Wednesday.

The worst-hit markets last month were mostly in Europe, reflecting the continent’s never-ending government debt woes. Greece, the epicenter of the debt crisis since the fall of 2009, was the biggest loser among global equity markets, plummeting 25.3% in dollar terms on expectations that the government faces default on at least some of its debts.

The next-worst markets, according to S&P: Tiny Luxembourg, off 18.9%; Germany, down 18%; Hungary, down 17.4%; Turkey, off 15.6%; and Italy, which lost 14.4%.

Asian markets either held up better than European markets in the early-August plunge or posted bigger comebacks later in the month, or both. Malaysia lost 8.2% in August, Thailand fell 6.1%, Japan slid 7.4% and Singapore was off 10.3%. Asia's economic outlook remains upbeat, at least compared with the U.S. and Europe.

Latin American markets also snapped back reasonably well after an early plunge, as investors focused on the region’s still-robust growth prospects. Chile was down 4.6% for the month, Mexico fell 5.4% and Brazil gave up 6.8%. Losses were deepened for U.S. investors because the dollar strengthened against many emerging-market currencies in August amid the global flight to safety.

Year to date through August, just five of S&P’s 45 markets were in the black in dollar terms: New Zealand, up 9.1%; Indonesia, 8.3%; Thailand, 4.3%; the Czech Republic, 4.1%, and the Philippines, 3.4%.

There’s always a bull market somewhere. . . .


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-- Tom Petruno

Photo: A pedestrian walks by the German stock exchange in Frankfurt. The German market was one of the world's worst performers in August. Credit: Frank Rumpenhorst / AFP / Getty Images