World stock markets end a tumultous year well down

Stock market Stock markets have been rocked by international economic crises in 2011

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World stock markets have rounded off a wild and difficult year.

The UK FTSE 100 fell 5.6% in 2011, while the French and German markets saw falls of 17% and 15% as growing fears for the survival of the euro took their toll. But US stocks ended the year up.

The Libyan revolution saw the oil price surge in the first half of the year, while the gold price set a new record high as investors sought its safety.

Meanwhile, the euro ended 2011 close to a 15-month low against the dollar.

The eurozone crisis has had a massive impact on global markets, as investors nervously await a plan to ensure Italy's government can continue to support its enormous debts.

The US and Europe, including the UK, have also come to accept that it may be many years before their heavily-indebted economies regain their former dynamism.

Euro trouble The euro has been fighting for its survival
US troubles

Financial markets started 2011 in an optimistic mood.

However, this was dramatically halted in the summer after the US lost its top AAA credit rating, following political deadlock in Congress over raising the country's debt ceiling - the legal limit on the federal government's total borrowing.

Much of the year has been dominated by the euro crisis, which came to the boil in August.

The euro ended the year close to a 15-month low against the dollar after it shed more than 3% on Thursday.

Euro trouble Markets were hit by euro fears

With fears over the future of the eurozone, many analysts say it could drop even further in 2012.

Of the heavily-indebted so-called PIIGS (Portugal, the Irish Republic, Italy, Greece and Spain) countries, Irish shares fared best.

France and Germany look likely to bear the brunt of the bailout costs for the southern European states - and this was reflected in the performance of their equity markets.

German falls

France's Cac 40 dropped 17% and Germany's Dax fell 14.7% over the year.

By contrast, the German market was the best performer in Europe in 2010, so it marks a dramatic change in fortunes for the European 'powerhouse'.

Overall, however, the UK FTSE 100 index is 5.6% lower on the year, having fallen from 5,899.94 to close at 5,572.28 over 12 months, with worries over the impact of the eurozone crisis doing much of the damage.

This is in marked contrast to previous years - 2010 saw a 9% rise, while 2009 saw stocks rise in value by 22% during the year.

"As traders say goodbye and probably good riddance to 2011, a year that saw most of the European and Asian indices recording double-digit losses, traders may not be so welcoming to 2012 either," said Jonathan Sudaria, a dealer at brokerage Capital Spreads.

"The one bright spark to 2011 has been the resilience of the US, given the weak global economic backdrop."

US downgrade

The US Nasdaq and Dow Jones were rocked by the Americans' own financial woes in July, when the US rapidly approached its debt ceiling, risking default if agreement could not be reached by a polarised Congress to raise it.

And despite ultimately raising the ceiling, rating agency Standard & Poor's lowered the credit rating of the United States from AAA to AA+, deciding that the budget plan that was passed did not go far enough to address the country's deficit - a move which wiped off 5.6% of the Dow Jones Industrial Average in a single day.

On Friday, the Dow Jones industrial average closed down 69 points at 12,218, but remained higher than at the start of the year.

Japan's stocks lost 17% in 2011 in the wake of March's devastating tsunami, which saw 20,000 lives lost and affected manufacturing of some of the world's most vital component suppliers, not to mention severe damage to the country's energy sector, including a nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

Japan's Nikkei index closed at 8,429.45 on Friday - its lowest year-end close since 1982.

China slowdown

China's Shanghai Composite Index lost 22% in 2011 as tighter government curbs on lending and investment cooled the country's rapid economic growth.

The flood of state spending and bank lending after the 2008 crisis had fueled a surge in house and stock prices.

China China is keen to avoid boom and bust

In 2010, Beijing responded by clamping down on credit and property speculators to cool inflation and soaring housing prices.

Beijing is trying to ensure economic growth remains at a more sustainable level after 2010's rate of 10.3%.

Growth eased to an annual rate of 9.1% in the three months ending in September, down from 9.5% on the previous quarter.

Indian markets saw the second biggest fall in a decade this year. The Sensex, the Bombay Stock Exchange's benchmark equity index, ended trading at 15,543.93 on Friday, falling 24% during the year.

But foreign investors would have been doubly burnt, as India's rupee was one of the worst performing currencies this year, down 16% against the dollar.

Top and bottom

Unsurprisingly, the two worst performing equity markets were in the eurozone.

The Cyprus market fell 72% over the year, while the Greek market was the next worse performer, down 52%.

But which world stocks were the best? Not what people may expect.

Calculated in their respective currencies, Venezuela was top of the class, with gains of almost 79% in 2011, followed by Mongolia and Zambia. Very few other stock markets ended the year in positive territory.

On commodity markets, both the Arab Spring and the eurozone crisis have taken their toll.

Oil Oil has seen numerous peaks and troughs

The price of oil surged to the highest in more than two years in May, after a popular uprising in Tunisia sparked similar protests across the Middle East and North Africa.

Clashes in Libya between rebels and forces loyal to Colonel Gadaffi cut off more than 1.5 million barrels a day of oil exports from the country.

Prices gave up the year's gains by August amid concern the US economic recovery was stalling, and speculation that Libya would resume oil production faster than expected after Gadaffi's ousting that month.

The price of Brent crude - Europe's main oil price benchmark - slipped in October to its lowest in a year, as Europe's escalating debt crisis sapped confidence in the health of the global economy.

However, escalating tensions with Iran look set to push prices up further.

Gold standard

For precious metals, the year was affected by fears over the sustainability of debts in Europe and the US, and speculation that the US Federal Reserve's unprecedented money creation may ultimately lead to sharply higher inflation.

Gold Gold spiked amid the summer's euro crisis

During the first few months of the year, the price of silver sharply outperformed gold and by the end of April the silver price rose by nearly 56%.

Gold rallied in August as the eurozone crisis affected stock markets across the globe, but has fallen back at the end of 2011.

It hit an all-time high of $1,921.15 per troy ounce in September.

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