NEW YORK Major stock markets fell while the dollar dropped to an eight-month low on Thursday with no end in sight to the budget fight in Washington that has shut down the government for a third day.
Worries also grew about the more important battle over the U.S. debt ceiling in coming weeks, sending U.S. one-month Treasury bill rates to their highest level since November. Failure to raise the $16.7 trillion borrowing limit by October 17 will lead to a U.S. default and roil global markets.
Market volatility could rise if the deadlock continues as concern grows about its economic impact. Goldman Sachs estimated a short-term shutdown would slow U.S. economic growth by about 0.2 percentage point, while a weeks-long disruption could weigh more heavily - 0.4 percentage point - as furloughed workers scale back personal spending.
President Barack Obama met with Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress late Wednesday to try to break the budget deadlock that has shut down wide swaths of the government, but there was no breakthrough and both sides blamed each other. Obama's healthcare law was at the centre of the impasse.
"People are just keeping their cards close to the vests as they keep an eye on what's going on with the politicians in Washington," said Larry Milstein, head of agency and government trading at R.W. Pressprich & Co. in New York.
MSCI's world equity index, which tracks shares in 45 countries, fell 0.3 percent to 383.14.
Failure to raise the U.S. debt ceiling could damage not only the United States but the rest of the global economy, International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde said on Thursday.
The S&P 500, having dropped in eight of the past 10 sessions on worries about the deadlock in Washington, could provide a buying opportunity, some analysts say.
"In the short term, this uncertainty could cause a lot of disruption," said Kim Forrest, senior equity research analyst, Fort Pitt Capital Group in Pittsburgh.
"But if you have a longer-term time frame, this might be a positive. We thought the market had gotten ahead of itself, so this could be a chance to get in."
U.S. stocks fell in early trading. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 114.14 points, or 0.75 percent, to 15,019.00. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index lost 13.11 points, or 0.77 percent, to 1,680.76. The Nasdaq Composite Index slipped 24.77 points, or 0.65 percent, to 3,790.25.
The dollar fell 0.2 percent against a basket of currencies, having reached an eight-month low of 79.730.
U.S. data showed the number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits edged up last week but remained at pre-recession levels, while growth in the U.S. services sector cooled last month after nearing an eight-year high in August.
The U.S. Labour Department on Thursday said the government's employment report for September will not be released as scheduled on Friday due to the government shutdown and a new release date had not yet been set.
Benchmark 10-year Treasury notes were up 1/32 in price with a yield 2.614 percent.
As concerns over a U.S. default have intensified, the cost to insure Treasuries has soared in the credit default swaps market.
Investors would pay about 46,000 euros to insure 10 million euros worth of Treasuries for a year on Thursday, according to Markit. This was the highest premium on one-year U.S. sovereign debt since July 2011 during the first debt ceiling showdown between President Barack Obama and top Republican lawmakers.
Interest rates on Treasury bills that will come due between the debt ceiling deadline and the end of October also rose on default worries. The rate on the T-bill issue due October 31 touched 0.17 percent, the highest level since November. This compared with the 0.03 percent on the T-bill due the following week.
Spot gold traded little changed $1,314 an ounce as investors booked profits after the previous session's gains. The metal rose 2.2 percent on Wednesday, posting the biggest daily gain in two weeks.
Brent crude headed towards $110 a barrel after strong data from China. Activity in China's services sector expanded at the fastest pace in six months in September as demand grew, cementing a modest pick-up in the world's second-largest economy.
Brent crude was up 42 cents to $109.61 a barrel. U.S. oil fell 21 cents to $103.89 a barrel.