Economic world snapshot

A look at economic developments and stock-market activity around the world Wednesday:

LONDON – European and U.S. stock markets plummeted in reaction to dismal U.S. retail sales data and renewed concerns over the financial well-being of the banking system. The FTSE 100 index of leading British shares closed down 5 percent, at 4,180.64, while Germany’s DAX fell 4.6 percent at 4,422.35. France’s CAC-40 closed down 4.6 percent at 3,052.00.

SAO PAULO, Brazil – Latin American stocks fell as retail sales plunged more than expected in the U.S., signaling a prolonged recession that is already slowing demand for the region’s exports. Brazil’s benchmark Ibovespa stock index dropped 3.8 percent to 38,052, its lowest since Dec. 30, as shares in mining company Vale do Rio Doce fell 3.9 percent to 25.71 reals. State-run oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA slid 3.3 percent to 23.16 reals amid a 3.8 percent slide in world crude oil prices. The companies together represent 30 percent of the index.

HONG KONG – Hong Kong stocks rose but finished well off their highs as selling in European lender HSBC weighed down the broader market. The blue-chip Hang Seng Index added 36.56 points, or 0.3 percent, to 13,704.61, snapping a six-day losing streak.

SEOUL, South Korea – North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has reportedly ordered a crackdown on street markets in an apparent move to reassert control over the economy amid an influx of foreign goods into the isolated country. The authoritarian leader has ordered that all manufactured goods and imported items be sold at state-run shops rather than markets beginning this month, South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper said.

SHANGHAI, China – Chinese shares rebounded as investor confidence was buoyed by evidence that Beijing’s massive stimulus package is beginning to boost economic activity. The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index rose 3.5 percent, or 65.5 points, to close at 1928.87. The Shenzhen Composite Index for China’s smaller second exchange market, jumped 3.9 percent to 594.02.

TOKYO – Japanese shares rose modestly, breaking a three-day slump, as the yen leveled off after recent steep gains against the dollar and as investors shopped for bargains. The benchmark Nikkei 225 stock average ended up 0.3 percent, or 24.54 points, at 8438.45, a small but welcome respite for traders after recent falls. The index is down almost 5 percent this year.

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