The European debt crisis appears to be widening, with concerns about government debt defaults spreading beyond Greece to much larger countries like Italy and Spain. If that happens companies that do business internationally could see their revenue and profits decline as European countries and companies curtail purchases. What’s more, a widespread financial crisis could cause a credit crunch in Europe and elsewhere.
The concerns sent stocks down. After a rally that sent markets up sharply the last two weeks of June, the Standard & Poor’s 500 index dropped 24.31 points, or 1.8 percent, to 1,319.49 on Monday.
The Dow Jones industrial average had its biggest percentage drop in nearly a month. It fell 151.44 points, or 1.2 percent, to 12,505.76. And after closing one point off its 2011 high late last week, the Nasdaq composite fell 57.19, or 2.0 percent to 2,802.62.
Italy and Spain, Europe’s third- and fourth-largest economies, have seen bond yields rise sharply. It’s the latest sign that investors are less willing to hold the debt of those countries. Italy’s largest banks, UniCredit SpA and Intesa, fell sharply on European exchanges. Some investors believe several of Italy and Spain’s financial institutions might not pass an upcoming stress test for European banks.
“What the European Union is trying to do is keep the problem contained at a sovereign level and not have the infection spread to the banking system,” said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Harris Private Bank. “To see a bank drop that much that fast suggests there may be a breach.”
That has led to fears in Europe and elsewhere that the aid from international lenders may not be enough to stop a broad deterioration of the European economy.
Markets seemed to be recovering during the last half of June. The last week of the month, the Dow had its best week in two years after several positive reports on manufacturing and consumer spending. All three major indexes were close to their previous highs for the year, reached April 29. But the run-up just gave markets more room to fall.