ECONOMY

Violence rattles markets

The deaths of three people during a street march held in Athens yesterday in protest at the government’s latest austerity measures coupled with comments from an ECB council member of contagion from Greece’s debt crisis, provided a cocktail of news weighing heavily on markets in Athens and abroad. A group of self-styled anarchists taking part in a demonstration against austerity measures needed to secure Greece’s EU-IMF funding threw a petrol bomb into a bank branch, setting fire to the building. The victims, three employees aged between 32-36, died from asphyxiation while trying to escape. Brokers said the news spooked investors, highlighting the opposition the socialist government faces in pushing through tax hikes and spending cuts worth 30 billion euros in the next three years. Greek stocks fell nearly 4 percent bringing losses since the start of the year to about 25 percent. The euro lost ground to the US dollar on concern Europe’s debt crisis is worsening. Ratings agency Moody’s also warned yesterday that Portugal’s credit rating may be reduced, pushing the 16-nation currency to below $1.29 for the first time since March 2009. «The market has lost confidence in the bailout process and that has led to concern over the euro,» Amelia Bourdeau, a currency strategist in Stamford, Connecticut, at UBS AG, told Bloomberg. «It’s questioning the medium-term implications of the package: Can Greece meet the terms and will the package be enough to stop contagion risk?» Markets have been skeptical about whether the plan to bail out Greece can prevent a default, in a crisis shaking weak economies on the eurozone’s periphery. They are closely watching Prime Minister George Papandreou’s struggle with angry unions and leftists to sustain the painful austerity steps. This comes on top of concerns about whether the Greek economy, mired in a deep recession and characterized by a lack of competitiveness, can survive the austerity measures and remain in the eurozone. Greek bonds declined after European Central Bank council member Axel Weber said the region faces «grave contagion» from Greece’s fiscal crisis. «There is a threat of grave contagion effects for other member states in the monetary union and increasing negative feedback loop effects on capital markets,» Weber said. «All in all, Germany’s contribution to the aid package for Greece is justifiable.» The yield on the Greek 10-year security jumped 72 basis points to 10.56 percent. Investors demanded an extra 7.18 percentage points in yield to hold the debt instead of German bunds, Europe’s benchmark securities. Argentina remembers past Images of protests in Greece over the country’s financial crisis appear similar to events that took place in Argentina in 2001, when the country defaulted on $95 billion of debt, Argentina’s president said. «Those images that we see on the television are too much like the ones of 2001,» President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner said in Buenos Aires yesterday, Bloomberg reported. More than two dozen people were killed in protests in Argentina in 2001 and the country had five presidents in two weeks as the government struggled to get control over the crisis. Fernandez said that the IMF and EU prescription of spending cuts were «almost identical» to the ones that Argentina imposed during its crisis. «The international multilateral lenders, which keep offering the same old prescriptions, still don’t understand what’s going on in the world,» Fernandez, 57, said. On December, 2001, the day then-President Fernando de la Rua resigned, thousands of protesters hurled stones at police firing tear gas and rubber bullets in riots in downtown Buenos Aires. Police said three people were killed in the Plaza de Mayo outside the presidential palace, adding to 16 people killed in other parts of the country. More died in other clashes.