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Europe and Asia stocks drop

STOCKS fell in Europe and Asia, extending the MSCI World Index's worst start to a year on record, as concern grew that earnings will deteriorate amid a deepening global recession. United States index futures declined.

Delhaize Group, the Belgian owner of the Food Lion supermarket chain in the US, and Royal Ahold NV, the Dutch owner of the Stop and Shop chain, retreated more than 2.5 percent after JPMorgan Chase & Co downgraded their shares and President Barack Obama said that the American economy is "in for a tough several months." Hitachi Ltd, the world's third-largest maker of hard-disk drives, plunged 17 percent in Tokyo after forecasting a record loss. Mizuho Financial Group Inc, Japan's second-biggest listed bank, declined 6.6 percent after posting its second consecutive quarterly loss.

The MSCI World Index slipped 0.9 percent to 831.02 at 8:44am in London. The key index of 23 developed countries tumbled 8.9 percent last month, the biggest January decline since the gauge was developed in 1970.

"January is a good indicator for the rest of the year," said Roger Kunz, head of investment strategy at Clariden Leu in Zurich, which has about US$120 billion. "We are still in a downward spiral where negative results from the financial system are influencing the real economy. No one is expecting any miracles."

Europe's Dow Jones Stoxx 600 Index fell 1.8 percent yesterday, bringing its 2009 drop to 5.4 percent. The MSCI Asia-Pacific Index lost 2.1 percent, Bloomberg News said.

Standard & Poor's 500 Index futures dipped 0.8 percent. The measure for US equities declined 8.6 percent last month, the biggest January drop on record, after companies from Procter & Gamble Co to Caterpillar Inc and Allstate Corp reported earnings that trailed estimates.

The slide in the S&P 500 so far in 2009 suggests it will have another losing year, according to the so-called January barometer. Since 1950, the indicator developed by Yale Hirsch, chairman and founder of the Stock Traders' Almanac, has been at least 80 percent accurate.

Delhaize Group declined 4.4 percent to 48.18 euros (US$61.75). The company was cut to "underweight" from "neutral" at JPMorgan, which cited a drop in US food inflation.

The brokerage also downgraded Royal Ahold to "neutral" from "overweight." The shares lost 2.5 percent to 9.18 euros.


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