BANGKOK (AP) — World stock markets fell Friday as gloomy economic reports from the world's two biggest economies heightened fears of a sharper global downturn. In Europe, leaders were set to weigh options for fixing the continent's debt crisis.
The leaders of Germany, France, Italy and Spain are gathering in Rome on Friday to try to hammer out proposals for easing the widening financial crisis spreading across the 17-member euro currency union.
Concrete proposals will be brought to a wider gathering of EU leaders on June 28 and 29.
European stocks dropped in early trading, mirroring losses in Asia. Britain's FTSE 100 lost 0.9 percent at 5,516.30. Germany's DAX fell 1 percent to 6,277.90 and France's CAC-40 slipped 0.8 percent to 3,089.24.
But Wall Street appeared headed for a higher opening, a day after the Dow sustained its second-worst loss of the year. Dow Jones industrial futures rose 0.4 percent to 12,546 and S&P 500 futures added 0.4 percent to 1,323.50.
Japan's Nikkei 225 index fell 0.3 percent to close at 8,798.35 and South Korea's Kospi slid 2.2 percent to 1,847.39. Hong Kong's Hang Seng lost 1.4 percent to 18,995.13 and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 was down 1 percent at 4,048.20.
Benchmarks in Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Indonesia fell while the Philippines rose. Markets in mainland China were closed for a public holiday.
On Thursday, the U.S. Labor Department reported that the four-week average of applications for unemployment benefits jumped to the highest level in nine months. Meanwhile, sales of previously owned homes fell 1.5 percent in May.
A further sign of weakness in the world's No. 1 economy came from the Philadelphia branch of the Federal Reserve, which issued a report showing that manufacturing in the northeast had experienced a sharp decrease due to a steep fall in company orders.
Appetite for financial assets such as stocks was also dented by the results of a monthly HSBC survey, which showed that manufacturing in China has continued to contract. China's growth has been a pillar of the global economy in recent years, so its slowdown has been of particular concern to investors.
"With signs of weakness in the US economy, the persistence of the eurozone debt crisis and the threat of a hardlanding in China looming, the prospect of a synchronized economic slowdown is real," analysts at DBS Bank Ltd. in Singapore said in a market commentary.
Sentiment was also shaken after Moody's Investors Service lowered the credit ratings of 15 major banks, including Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs, saying their long-term prospects for profitability and growth are shrinking.
Downgrades generally make it more costly for banks to raise money by selling debt because investors demand higher interest in return for taking on riskier debt.
"Of course, they deserve it for years of mismanagement and speculative trading activities ... and also the exposure to sovereign bank debt," said Francis Lun, managing director of Lyncean Holdings in Hong Kong. "So, as a result, all these major international banks are being downgraded to a more realistic level."
Asian financial shares sputtered after the ratings slap. South Korea's Shinhan Financial Group Co. tumbled 3 percent while Australia & New Zealand Banking Group lost 1.4 percent. Hong Kong-listed Industrial & Commercial Bank of China, the world's biggest bank by market value, fell 1.2 percent.
Falling commodities prices hurt mining and raw materials shares in Australia. BHP Billiton, the world's largest mining company, fell 2.1 percent. Newcrest Mining Ltd. dropped 3 percent. Hong Kong-listed Jiangxi Copper Co. fell 2 percent.
Benchmark oil for August delivery was up 10 cents to $78.31 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell $3.25, or 4 percent, to settle at $78.20 per barrel in New York on Thursday.
In currency trading, the euro fell slightly to $1.2556 from $1.2558 late Thursday in New York. The dollar rose to 80.33 yen from 80.29 yen.
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