World stocks and the euro stumbled on Tuesday after the cancellation of a meeting of European finance ministers raised doubts that an upcoming summit will result in a clear plan to rein in Europe's debt crisis.
A summit of European leaders remains scheduled for Wednesday, but the gathering of finance ministers -- known as Ecofin -- was cancelled because details of the meeting had not been finalized, sources told Reuters.
The worries over Europe boosted safe-haven assets, driving up prices of U.S. Treasury debt and driving the Japanese yen to a record high against the dollar. Weak U.S. consumer data added to the gloomy sentiment and helped push gold up 3 percent to top $1,700 an ounce.
We are inclined to believe that the cancellation of the EU finance ministers meeting means more delays than progress on euro area talks, said Kathy Lien, director of research at GFT in Jersey City, New Jersey.
We won't know for sure until Wednesday when the EU Summit ends and the press conference is delivered, but today's announcement certainly adds a degree of uncertainty in the markets.
Officials said euro zone leaders are unlikely to provide many hard numbers to flesh out their debt crisis response on Wednesday because the size of banks' losses on Greek bonds is still under negotiation and an increase in the firepower of the bailout fund is tough to quantify.
Also on Tuesday, Germany said it opposes a phrase in a draft conclusion for the summit that calls for the European Central Bank to continue buying bonds in the secondary market.
The ECB has been buying Spanish and Italian bonds for more than two months in order to hold down the countries' borrowing costs and contain the region's debt crisis.
MSCI's all-country world stock index fell 0.8 percent. The index had earlier hit its highest level since early September on signs that euro zone policymakers had neared agreement on bank recapitalization and on how to leverage the region's rescue fund.
U.S. stocks traded lower in afternoon trade, partly also weighed by discouraging corporate outlooks. The Dow Jones industrial average was down 140.32 points, or 1.18 percent, at 11,773.30. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was down 18.10 points, or 1.44 percent, at 1,236.09. The Nasdaq Composite Index was down 48.04 points, or 1.78 percent, at 2,651.40.
The FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares ended 0.7 percent lower at 982.57 after rising to an 11-week high of 993.29 earlier. Emerging market shares gained 0.6 percent.
SAFE HAVEN PLAY
The euro dropped 0.1 percent to $1.3917, after hitting a session low of $1.3847 on Reuters data, well off a six-week high of $1.3959.
The dollar hit a record low of 75.73 yen, raising expectations of official intervention to stem the yen's strength.
Gold extended a three-day rally to top $1,700 an ounce for the first time in a month. Spot gold was last up 2.9 percent at $1,700.40 an ounce.
Signs of discord in the euro zone weighed down Brent crude, but U.S. oil prices shot higher in a second day of frenetic spread trading, as dealers raced to claw back a record discount versus Europe's Brent on mounting evidence of tightening supplies.
Brent crude fell 56 cents at $110.89 a barrel. U.S. crude rose $1.86 to $93.13 a barrel.
U.S. Treasury bond prices rose. Benchmark 10-year Treasury notes were up 30/32 in price for a yield of 2.13 percent. The 30-year bond was up 2-8/32, its yield falling to 3.16 percent.
U.S. Treasuries remain the strongest net bought across the board amid investor concerns that the long-standing, seemingly intractable differences amongst euro zone policy makers remain difficult to bridge, said Samarjit Shankar, managing director of global FX strategy at BNY Mellon in Boston.