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Cyprus bailout prompts muted relief in markets

Published: Monday, March 25, 2013 10:31 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Shizuo Kambayashi)
A TV crew reports stock princes in front of an electronic stock indicator of a securities firm in Tokyo, Monday, March 25, 2013. A last-minute package of rescue loans that saves Cyprus from a banking collapse and bankruptcy helped push Asian stock markets higher Monday. Japan's Nikkei 225 index surged 1.9 percent to 12,546.46. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)

LONDON (AP) — The rally in stock markets in the wake of the Cypriot bailout deal proved short-lived Monday as investors remained cautious following a crisis that laid bare the scale of problems surrounding Europe's single currency.

In the immediate aftermath of the deal between the Mediterranean island nation and international creditors, stocks rallied strongly and the euro edged back up above the $1.30 mark. But as the day wore on, the optimism was running dry.

Though Cyprus' bailout deal will prevent it becoming the first country to ditch the euro, investor worries over Europe's common currency remain, not least because the deal sanctions raiding bank deposits.

"The Cypriot bailout has a powerful legacy which may alter the security with which depositors elsewhere in the eurozone view the safety of banks," said Jane Foley, an analyst at Rabobank International. "It has also reportedly uncovered a lack of harmony."

In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was up 0.2 percent at 6,403 while Germany's DAX rose 0.1 percent to 7,916. The CAC-40 in France was down 0.2 percent at 3,761.

Italy's FTSE-MIB was the big underperformer, trading 1.5 percent lower, as political parties there still struggled to form a government.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average was down 0.2 percent at 14,481 while the broader S&P 500 index was flat at 1,557.

The focus will likely remain on developments surrounding Cyprus for a while yet. In particular, investors will be interested to see if the level of bank withdrawals from the country's banks when they reopen. That's scheduled for Tuesday.

A longer-lasting concern is how the Cyprus deal plays out in other countries, notably those at the forefront of Europe's debt crisis. Will depositors look to reduce their holdings in Spain, Italy and Greece?

"It will set an unsettling precedent for future bailouts and investors will once again be concerned over the security of their bank deposits," said Mike McCudden, head of derivatives at Interactive Investor.

In return for a 10 billion euros ($13 billion) bailout from its European partners and the International Monetary Fund, Cyprus agreed to drastically shrink its outsized banking sector, cut its budget, implement economic reforms and privatize state assets — a cocktail of measures that mean the country's near-term economic prospects are bleak indeed.

The deal will allow the European Central Bank to continue providing liquidity to the remnants of Cyprus' banking system, thereby eliminating any short-term fears of bankruptcy.

Cyprus's side of the bargain is earmarked to raise 5.8 billion euros. To do so, the country's second-largest bank, Laiki, will be restructured and bond holders and savers with more than 100,000 euros deposited will have to take significant losses. Depositors in the biggest bank, the Bank of Cyprus, with over 100,000 euros will also bear a cost but those with savings up to 100,000 euros will be guaranteed in accordance with the EU's deposit insurance guarantee.

Earlier, investors in Asia had the first chance to respond to the Cypriot developments and there too the response in financial markets was of relief. Japan's Nikkei 225 index surged 1.7 percent to 12,546.46 while South Korea's Kospi jumped 1.5 percent to 1,977.67. Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 0.6 percent to 22,251.15.

However, mainland Chinese shares fell Monday, with the Shanghai Composite Index down 0.1 percent at 2326.72, while the smaller Shenzhen Composite Index fell the same rate to 959.93.

Oil prices were solid, with the benchmark New York rate up $1.78 a barrel at $95.48 per barrel.

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Pamela Sampson in Bangkok contributed to this report.

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