Political tensions depress world stocks

A man looks at replicas of a North Korean Scud-B missile (R) and South Korean missiles at the Korean War Memorial in Seoul on August 10, 2017 (AFP Photo/JUNG Yeon-Je) (AFP)

New York (AFP) - The world's stock markets slid again Thursday with investors seeking safe havens as President Donald Trump doubled down on his warnings to North Korea over its nuclear program.

Trump, whose threat this week to bring "fire and fury" was dismissed by North Korea, said Thursday his statement might not have been "tough enough."

European equities indexes were a sea of red at the close, while Wall Street indices suffered their biggest losses in near three months, deepening their fall after Trump's mid-afternoon remarks further stoked fears of a miscalculation that could lead to catastrophic consequences on the Korean peninsula and beyond.

"Risk aversion is once again the name of the game... as geopolitical tensions mount and investors head for cover in the traditional safe havens," said Oanda analyst Craig Erlam.

But for now it seems that "traders still believe the prospect of military action is very small but precautions are still being taken nonetheless, as this still has the potential to escalate very quickly and unexpectedly," he said.

London's benchmark FTSE 100 index was down 1.4 percent at the closing bell, also driven lower by losses in the commodity sector.

In the eurozone, the Paris CAC 40 lost 0.6 percent and Frankfurt's DAX 30 shed some 1.2 percent.

All three US indices fell sharply, with the broad-based S&P 500 tumbling 1.5 percent.

But safe havens benefited from the move away from stocks with gold rising by just under one percent after surging 1.3 percent Wednesday.

- Potentially catastrophic -

The European and American dips followed similar trading in Asia, where equities also were back in the red, snuffing out a nascent recovery.

Markets had taken heart earlier in the day after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sought to play down the escalating war of words between Washington and Pyongyang.

But losses soon resumed, with Tokyo edging down as the Nikkei again came under pressure from the strength of the safe-haven yen, which hit eight-week highs Wednesday against the dollar.

Hong Kong shed more than one percent and Shanghai also closed lower, while Seoul shares continued their sell-off after slumping Wednesday, with the won again softening.

On commodities markets, oil advanced initially after figures from the American Petroleum Institute showed a sharp decrease in stockpiles.

But then oil prices succumbed to the overall selling pressure for risky assets, aided by an OPEC report showing crude production by cartel members increased slightly in July, including Saudi Arabia, which had championed efforts by the organization and its allies to extend an output freeze.

In earnings news, retailers were under pressure after Macy's and Kohl's each reported lower second-quarter sales, reviving worries about consumer discretionary stocks. Macy's sank 10.3 percent and Kohl's lost 5.8 percent.

- Key figures around 2045 GMT -

New York - Dow: DOWN 0.9 percent at 21,844.01 (close)

New York - S&P 500: DOWN 1.5 percent at 2,438.21 (close)

New York - Nasdaq: DOWN 2.1 percent at 6,216.87 (close)

London - FTSE 100: DOWN 1.4 percent at 7,389.94 points (close)

Frankfurt - DAX 30: DOWN 1.2 percent at 12,014.30 (close)

Paris - CAC 40: DOWN 0.6 percent at 5,115.23 (close)

EURO STOXX 50: DOWN 1.0 percent at 3,433.54

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.1 percent at 19,729.74 (close)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng: DOWN 1.1 percent at 27,444.0 (close)

Shanghai - Composite: DOWN 0.4 percent at 3,261.75 (close)

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1777 from $1.1758

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2979 from $1.3003

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 109.21 yen from 110.02 yen

Oil - West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 97 cents at $48.59 per barrel

Oil - Brent North Sea: DOWN 80 cents at $51.90 per barrel