New York - Another day, another batch of warning signs indicating the world will enter 2009 in the throes of a sharp economic slowdown, with governments scrambling to find ways to boost lending and spur growth.
Oil and gold prices dipped on Tuesday, pressured by the gloomy global economic outlook which outweighed tensions in the Middle East due to Israel's assault on the Gaza Strip.
Tuesday brought more dismal economic news in the US, with single-family home prices down 18% in October from 2007 and consumer confidence plunging to a record low due to severe job cuts.
US retailers are also suffering. The International Council of Shopping Centers said the US holiday shopping season was the worst since at least 1970 because of the recession, heavy discounting and harsh winter weather.
"Really at this point we are not going to be seeing anything fundamentally positive from the US for the time being," said Michael Woolfolk, senior currency strategist at the Bank of New York Mellon.
But US stock indexes ended more than 2% higher, cheered by news that the government expanded its bail-out of the car industry, pumping $5bn into General Motors' vehicle and mortgage financing arm GMAC.
GMAC and its parent GM, the biggest US car manufacturer, announced programmes to make it easier for car and truck buyers to get financing, a day after the US government funding was announced.
The US government agreed on December 19 to rescue GM and Chrysler LLC with up to $17.4bn in loans to help stave off a collapse that would have cost hundreds of thousands of jobs in an economy already deep in recession.
The pressure on companies was highlighted by data from Reuters Loan Pricing, showing that the number of US loans issued in 2008 tumbled 55% to the lowest since 1994.
Weak growth prospects for 2009
New data on Tuesday also showed lending to euro zone companies and households stagnated in November to the weakest result on record, bolstering expectations that the European Central Bank (ECB) will keep cutting rates to ward off a deeper recession.
"Problems in financial markets are affecting the real economy across the world and global growth is expected to be very weak in 2009," ECB governing council member John Hurley said in the Irish Times.
He did not give a global figure but the ECB has already cut its forecast for the euro zone, predicting a 1% fall in gross domestic product (GDP) for 2009.
Retail spending in the euro zone fell for the seventh straight month in December, French unemployment jumped sharply and the head of the German exporters' association, BGA, forecast exports will fall in 2009 for the first time since 1993.
European stocks were on track for a 46% loss in the full year when trading ends on Wednesday, while on Wall Street, the benchmark S&P 500 is down about 40%, making 2008 one of its worst years ever.
The euro continued its recent surge against the British pound and the dollar.
The contrast of aggressive monetary easing in the US with a more cautious ECB is lending support to the euro while hurting the greenback, analysts said.
Year of the serpent
Analysts forecast more pain for consumers and investors in 2009, but said hopes of more government rescue packages were helping to shore up financial markets for now.
Daily newspaper Sankei Shimbun said Japan's government and central bank hope to launch a $110bn scheme by the end of March to buy bad loans and other financial assets from banks.
Japan's GDP has likely shrunk in the fourth quarter by an annualised 12.1%, which would be its sharpest contraction in 34 years, Barclays Capital said.
"Everyone's pinning their hopes on economic stimulus policies by the United States and possibly China," said Tomomi Yamashita, a fund manager at Shinkin Asset Management.
Tokyo stocks ended higher on their last trading day of 2008, capping a grim year which saw the Nikkei index plunge 42%, the biggest loss in its 58-year history.
"2008 was the year of the serpent, everyone got bitten," said Paul Biddle, a fund manager with Souls Funds Management in Australia.
China announced a 4 trillion yuan stimulus package last month to tackle a sharp slowdown that many economists forecast could cut growth next year to less than 7.5&, the country's lowest since 1990.
In a sign of shrinking economic activity across borders, international airlines saw a huge 13.5% fall in cargo traffic in November and a drop of 4.6% in passengers, industry group IATA said.