Santa Rally fails to materialize as markets head south again

LONDON (AP) — Stock markets all around the world fell further Friday amid growing fears about the outlook for the global economy and ongoing concerns about the pace of interest rate increases in the U.S.

Many stock markets are on track to end 2018 more than 10 percent lower than where they started, with some actually poised to record their worst December since the 1930s. Over the past few years, stock markets in December have generally ended the year strongly, the so-called "Santa Rally."

"Heading as we are to potentially the worst monthly December performance for U.S. equity markets since the 1930s, it would be easy to think that we could well be heading for further heavy declines," said Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets.

"The truth is, we've become spoilt over the last nine years by markets that have steadily gone higher without too much of a correction, and the prospect of further tightening of monetary conditions will mean that investors will have to be much more discerning about where they put their money as we head into 2019," he said.

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In early-afternoon trading, Germany's DAX was down 0.4 percent at 10,569 while France's CAC 40 fell 0.5 percent to 4,670. The FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was 0.3 percent lower at 6,689. Europe's three main stock markets have had a tough year, with the CAC and the FTSE down 12 percent or so, and the DAX not far off 20 percent lower.

U.S. stocks were poised for further losses at the bell, with Dow futures and the broader S&P 500 futures down 0.3 percent. Both indexes are heading for their worst December since the Great Depression. That's how bad this month has been.

Over the past year, investors have been roiled by a number of issues, including the U.S-China trade spat. But as the year has closed out, worries over the pace at which the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates next year have loomed large.

Earlier this week, the Fed raised interest rates for the fourth time this year and signaled that more increases are likely next year. Investors were disappointed that Fed Chairman Jerome Powell failed to indicate a more marked slowdown in the pace of rate hikes, given concerns over the state of the U.S. economy.

The stock markets are struggling even as the U.S. economy is on track to expand at the fastest pace in 13 years. Markets tend to move, however, on what investors anticipate will happen further out.

"Record highs to correction territory and flirting with a bear market — those that aren't already there that is — it really has been an extraordinary quarter that's got investors very concerned about the year ahead," said Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at OANDA.

"The list of headwinds has been growing throughout the year," he said.

Chinese markets have been in the front line of worries this year amid trade tensions with the U.S. The Shanghai Composite Index ended down 0.8 percent on Friday, meaning China's main stock index is set to end the year down nearly 25 percent.

The Nikkei declined 1.1 percent Friday to end the week at 20,166.19. That mean it is down nearly 13 percent for the year. Hong Kong's bucked the trend, ending the session 0.5 percent higher at 25,753.

Stocks are not the only financial assets recording momentous changes this month. Oil prices have declined around 25 percent from recent highs amid concerns over a glut in the market. Worries over the outlook for oil demand — given the expected slowdown in the global economy — have hardly helped either.

On Friday, the benchmark New York rate was down 1.4 percent at $45.24 a barrel while the international standard, Brent, declined 2.7 percent, to $52.91.

In energy markets, benchmark U.S. crude rebounded 48 cents to $46.37 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. That came after the contract plunged $2.29 on Thursday to close at $45.88.

The dollar has also endured some difficult days as investors try to gauge the impact of the Fed's policy stance. On Friday, the euro was down 0.3 percent at $1.1415 while the dollar declined 0.1 percent to 111.19 yen.