Stocks skid as Italy heads for political disarray

  • Posted: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 12:01 a.m.
Specialist John O'Hara works at his post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Monday, when stocks turned lower. (AP/Richard Drew)

Stocks had their worst drop in more than three months Monday as the prospect of political paralysis in Italy raised the specter of Europe’s debt crisis flaring up again.

Stock watch

For the year:

The Dow is up 680.03, or 5.2%

The S&P 500 is up 61.66, or 4.3%

The Nasdaq is up 96.74, or 3.2%

Stocks had rallied in the early going as exit polls showed that a center-left coalition in Italy that favored economic reforms in the euro region’s third-largest economy was leading. That gain evaporated after a later poll predicted that the elections could result in a stalemate in the country’s legislature. The losses accelerated in the late afternoon as partial official results showed an upstart protest campaign led by a comedian making stunning inroads.

“There was confidence in this election, and obviously confidence imploded,” said Ben Schwartz, a market strategist at Lightspeed Financial.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 216.40, or 1.6 percent, to 13,784.17, its biggest drop since Nov. 7. The S&P 500 index fell 27.75, or 1.8 percent, to 1,487.85, dropping below 1,500 for the first time in three weeks. The Nasdaq composite dropped 45.57, or 1.4 percent, to 3,116.25.

Investors dumped Italian government bonds, sending their yields higher and erased most of an early rally in Italy’s stock market. The yield on Italy’s 10-year government bond shot up to 4.43 percent from 4.12 percent early in the day, a sign that investors’ confidence in Italy’s government was dimming quickly. The country’s benchmark stock index, the FSTE MIB, rose 0.7 percent, giving up an early gain of 4 percent.

Investors worry about the outcome of Italy’s election because it could set off another crisis of confidence in the region’s shared currency, the euro. Financial markets in both Europe and the U.S. have swooned at the prospect of Italy or Spain being dragged into the region’s government debt troubles, which have led to bailouts of Greece, Ireland and Portugal and severe disruptions in financial markets.

The VIX index, a measure of how volatile investors expect the stock market to be, surged 34 percent to 19, the biggest one-day move since August 2011.

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