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Eurozone Crisis: Markets Reverse As Optimism Fades

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European indices retreated on Monday, wiping out the gains that followed Friday's EU summit
European indices retreated on Monday, wiping out the gains that followed Friday's EU summit

European stock markets reversed sharply on Monday as doubts began to set in about the sweeping reforms agreed at Friday's EU summit.

Bank stocks - since the start of the crisis in the leading carriage of the roller coaster - pulled all of the main indices down.

The French CAC-40 and German DAX closed down 2.61% and 3.36%, respectively, shedding most of their gains from Friday afternoon. In London, the FTSE-100 fell 1.83%.

The euphoria that followed Europe's grand summit on Friday was never going to last, as after the agreements - and the one big disagreement - markets realise that there are a lot of hard yards before the whole deal is signed off.

Jean-Michel Six, the chief economist of Standard and Poor's (S&P), the rating agency, caused further disquiet by using a speech in Tel Aviv to warn that the plan was not enough, and that Europe might need another shock - which some interpreted as a direct threat to the ratings of the main sovereigns.

More alarming for markets is European Central Bank (ECB) president Mario Draghi's coyness over whether he will or will not turn on the printing presses and engage in quantitative easing, or at least in an extension of the bond buying programme that has, at times, been the only thing keeping Italian debt below totally unsustainable levels.

No one is going to put money into risky assets until there is clarity over who is going to pay for the long interim period between now - with Italy still perilously close to insolvency - and March, when the country will still be there, albeit with a better set of rules in place to stop it happening again.

Draghi indicated in his press conference after the bank's decision to cut its main interest rate on Thursday that he would not be bailing out countries, which has been his longstanding position.

However, the markets are waiting for something, and holding out hope that the ECB will take the lead, possibly by lending money to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

While stock markets wore their fears prominently, bond investors were obviously slightly cheered by the progress. Italy's auction of 10-year bonds saw yields - the interest that the buyer demands on the debt - fell back below the 6% "danger zone" that is widely perceived as unsustainable.

The Netherlands, which remains AAA-rated, saw negative yield for its bonds during an auction on Monday morning. This shows that investors see core eurozone countries, such as the Netherlands, as a sound way to preserve their capital when all else is falling. This despite a warning from S&P that the entire eurozone faces a downgrade.

As a Deutsche Bank research note on Monday morning said - while there are many risks and volatility is almost inevitable, Friday's meeting exceeded even the ambitious Franco-German plan that preceded it.

"It is still a fragile framework, and a lot could derail it, but it is nonetheless progress."

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