Vincent Yu, Associated Press
A man walks past a screen displaying stock index outside a local bank in Hong Kong Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011. Asian stocks wavered on Thursday, looking for direction after a credit ratings agency warning that U.S. banks could be hit hard if Europe's debt crisis spreads beyond financially troubled countries like Greece. Hong Kong's Hang Seng dropped 0.9 percent to 18,793.28 at the mid-day close.

PARIS — World stocks continued to slide Thursday, as investors worried that Europe's debt crisis was intensifying and spreading to larger countries in the 17-nation euro union.

The results of a Spanish debt auction soured moods. The country paid nearly 7 percent to raise €3.56 billion ($4.8 billion) in 10-year bonds, the highest rate since 1997 and a level seen as unsustainable over the long term.

Demand was relatively weak. The amount of debt sold came in under the €4 billion maximum target set by the Treasury and the bid to cover ratio was 1.54, compared to 1.76 last time.

After the auction, yields on Spanish 10-year bonds shot up to 6.62 percent on the secondary market. That was 4.85 percentage points above the yield of the equivalent benchmark German bund.

Italian and French bond yields also rose as investor fled to buy only the safest of investments, such as German bonds. The result of a French bond auction will be watched closely for a rise in borrowing costs in Europe's second-largest economy.

Traders will later focus on Rome, where new Italian Premier Mario Monti will unveil his government's anti-crisis strategy in Parliament. Across the country, transport unions called for walkouts and strikes to demand better work contracts and protest cuts.

Scuffles among students were reported at the start of the demonstration in Milan, where they hoped to march to Bocconi University, which trains Italy's business elite. Monti, an economist, is Bocconi's president.

In early European trading, Britain's FTSE 100 fell 1.1 percent to 5,449 while France's CAC-40 fell 1.3 percent to 3,024. Germany's DAX was down 1 percent to 5,852.

Bank stocks were hit particularly hard after rating agency Fitch said in a report overnight that U.S. banks could take big losses if Europe's debt crisis spreads. In France, BNP Paribas was down 3.6 percent and Societe Generale was down 3.9 percent, while Credit Agricole was 4.5 percent lower.

U.S. stocks were poised to make small gains on the open on Wall Street. Dow futures were up 0.2 percent to 11,875 while S&P 500 futures rose 0.2 percent 1,233.50.

In Asia, Hong Kong's Hang Seng dropped 0.8 percent to close at 18,817.47 while South Korea's Kospi climbed 1.1 percent to end at 1,876.67. Japan's Nikkei 225 index was up 0.2 percent to finish at 8,479.63.

Mainland China's benchmark Shanghai Composite lost 0.2 percent to close at 2,463.05 while the Shenzhen Composite Index gained 0.1 percent to close at 1,060.55.

Benchmarks in Singapore, Indonesia, New Zealand and India fell. Australia's S&P ASX 200 edged up 0.3 percent to end at 4,258.20.

Europe's sovereign debt crisis is "the big overhang on the market at the moment," said Andrew Sullivan, principal sales trader at Piper Jaffray Asia Securities Ltd. in Hong Kong.

"Until (investors) see Greece default and then everyone stares at the fallout and realizes that the world isn't ending, or the eurozone comes up with a solid plan that is financed properly — until one of those two options come out we're not really going to see that overhang move away."

Benchmark crude for December delivery was up 23 cents at $102.82 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose $3.22 to settle at $102.59 in New York on Wednesday.

In currencies, the euro weakened to $1.3471 from $1.3512 late Wednesday in New York. The dollar strengthened slightly to 76.96 yen from 76.94 yen.

Kelvin Chan in Hong Kong and Fu Ting in Shanghai contributed to this report.