By Rodrigo Campos
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Bargain-hunters on Wall Street could not stop the bleeding in global shares on Friday as fears of a protracted capital flight out of emerging markets lingered, handing a gauge of global equities its worst month in almost two years.
U.S. stocks came back in midafternoon trading but sold off into the close. MSCI's global index, down 4 percent in January, posted its largest monthly decline since May 2012. Emerging market stocks closed the day flat but were down 6.6 percent for the month, the worst start to a year since 2009.
"Given the concerns over the emerging markets and currencies, I think most traders are tending to close down their books so that they don't come in on Monday morning with a negative surprise," said Quincy Krosby, market strategist for Prudential Financial in Newark, New Jersey.
Adding to pressure in emerging market currencies from Turkey to South Africa in previous sessions, the Russian rouble and Polish zloty slid Friday against the U.S. dollar.
Concern about growth in China and other emerging markets triggered the selling in developing economies late last week, with focus on countries with internal political and economic issues, like Ukraine and Argentina.
The U.S. Federal Reserve's decision this week to continue to withdraw its monetary stimulus - one of the reasons for the flow of cash into emerging markets in recent years - compounded the problems in emerging economies.
"Pressure has now returned to haunt the key emerging market currencies whose central banks have so far raised the cost of borrowing, but pressure valves are also now being tested elsewhere," said Andrew Wilkinson, chief market analyst at Interactive Brokers LLC in Greenwich, Connecticut.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 149.76 points or 0.94 percent, to end at 15,698.85, the S&P 500 lost 11.6 points or 0.65 percent, to 1,782.59 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 19.248 points or 0.47 percent, to 4,103.877.
The FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares closed down 0.24 percent after dropping nearly 1.7 percent at the session low.
In a move seen directly pressuring the Fed and European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund urged central banks to ensure that a financial market rout in the developing world does not lead to an international funding crunch.
"I have been saying that the U.S. should worry about the effects of its policies on the rest of the world," Reserve Bank of India Governor Raghuram Rajan said on Friday, a day after slamming what he said was a breakdown in global monetary coordination.
Poland delayed publication of its monthly debt supply plan until next week due to market turbulence and an overhaul of its pension scheme, a day after Hungary scrapped a bond sale because of a sudden spike in rates.
Euro zone consumer price inflation dropped in January, bucking market expectations and putting downward pressure on the single currency. Inflation slowed to 0.7 percent, the same level as when the ECB, which meets next Thursday, caught markets off guard with a rate cut in November. Unemployment remained at a record high.
The euro was last down 0.5 percent versus the U.S. dollar, trading at $1.3487. The euro lost 1.9 percent of its value versus the dollar during January.
"The focus on the euro is that we could see a policy response from the ECB next week," said Shaun Osborne, chief foreign exchange strategist at TD Securities in Toronto.
MONEY FLOWING OUT OF EM
Fund investors worldwide pulled $6.4 billion from emerging market stock funds in the week ended January 29, marking their biggest outflows since August 2011, data from a Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global Research report showed.
The grab for safer assets meant the dollar had the upper hand in the currency market, pressuring commodities already weakened by the prospects of slower growth.
U.S. Treasuries prices rose on month-end buying and on support from safety bids.
"It's a classic flight to quality," said Priya Misra, head of U.S. rates strategy at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in New York. "We're driven primarily by what's happening in emerging markets and stocks."
The benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note was up 13/32, the yield at 2.6476 percent.
Gold was caught between the run to safety and the surge in the greenback, and spot prices edged up less than 0.1 percent. The metal was down 1.9 percent for the week but posted its first monthly gain since last August.
Brent oil fell 1.5 percent and U.S. crude dropped 0.8 percent. Copper fell 0.4 percent to set a monthly drop of 4 percent, the largest since June.
"The absence of the Chinese market for the next week means that we may see some further downside on commodities, especially if we do see the dollar gaining ground," said Tim Radford, of Sydney-based metals adviser Rivkin.
Chinese markets were closed for the New Year holiday and will remain closed into next week.
(Reporting by Rodrigo Campos; Additional reporting by Angela Moon and Richard Leong in New York and Tim Ahmann and Jason Lange in Washington; Editing by Dan Grebler)