Japanese pledge eases tension in European markets

By Pan Pylas

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 11 2011 7:38 a.m. MST

LONDON — A pledge by Japan to support Europe's bailout efforts helped ease the pressure on European markets Tuesday despite speculation that Portugal will soon have to join Greece and Ireland in getting bailed out.

In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was up 60.82 points, or 1 percent, at 6,017.12 while Germany's DAX rose 32.76 points, or 0.5 percent, at 6,889.82. The CAC-40 in France was 22.80 points, or 0.6 percent, higher at 3,824.83.

Meanwhile, the euro was down 0.1 percent on the day at $1.2930. However, the currency is still up from Monday's low of $1.2875 — a sign that the selling pressure that has hurt the euro over the past week or so may be easing.

Analysts credited much of the stability on Japan's commitment to recycle some of its trillion dollars worth of foreign exchange reserves. Japanese Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda announced Tuesday that his country is "considering buying more than 20 percent of bonds" under a rescue fund to help Ireland. The European Financial Stability Facility, the eurozone's rescue fund, is set to issue debt worth several billions of euros later this month to finance the cost of an international bailout of Ireland.

Noda's words of support echo similar comments from China and come amid further evidence that the European Central Bank is taking a more active role in the crisis by buying up the bonds of Europe's most indebted countries, like Portugal, Ireland and Greece.

Buying bonds supports their prices, taking pressure off the banks that hold them. It also lowers bond yields, which indicate the borrowing costs countries would face were they to go into the market for more credit.

Japan's investment pledge may have helped ease the pressure in European markets but has done little to convince twitchy investors that Portugal will avoid the same fate as Greece and Ireland, especially as the yield on its benchmark ten-year bonds hovers around the potentially unsustainable 7 percent level.

"Bond yields above 6-7 percent simply compound the unsustainability of the government's debt dynamics especially in the absence of positive economic growth," said Neil MacKinnon, global macro strategist at VTB Capital.

Many think that the real motivation behind voices of support is not to prevent a bailout of Portugal — the prevailing view in the markets is that the country will end up having to get a lifeline — but to stop the crisis spreading to Spain.

"It would appear there is an international effort to support peripheral Europe as the big fear is still the potential bailout of Spain," said Phil Gillett, a trader at Spreadex.

Emergency support for Spain would test the limits of the existing bailout fund, potentially putting the euro project in jeopardy if governments don't put up more cash. Spain makes up over 10 percent of the eurozone economy, whereas Greece, Ireland and Portugal only account for around 2 percent each.

Both Portugal and Spain are set to tap the markets for money this week and there's growing speculation that both countries are looking at alternative ways of raising cash — instead of auctions, there's talk that both countries may be looking to raise money from individuals and countries directly.

Wall Street was poised to open modestly higher later — Dow futures were up 13 points at 11,600 while the broader Standard & Poor's 500 futures rose 2 points to 1,267.50.

Earlier in Asia, Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 stock average closed down 0.3 percent to 10,510.68 but most other markets spiked higher. South Korea's Kospi rose 0.4 percent to 2,088.32 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng index gained 1 percent to 23,760.34.

Benchmark oil for February delivery fell 13 cents to $89.12 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Pamela Sampson in Bangkok contributed to this report.

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