Dow Jones loses 131 points as jitters over Europe spread

NEW YORK – A growing sense that Europe’s leaders have failed to contain that region’s debt crisis swept through financial markets Wednesday.

By the end of the trading day, the Dow had lost 131 points, European stock indexes fell as much as 3 percent and gold dropped $76, ending below $1,600 an ounce for the first time in more than two months.

Investors dumped assets that might be seen as risky and piled into the most conservative ones around — the dollar and U.S. government debt.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 131.46 points, or 1.1 percent, to close at 11,823.48. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 13.91 points, or 1.1 percent, to 1,211.82. The Nasdaq fell 39.96, or 1.6 percent to 2,539.31.

Gold dropped 4.6 percent to settle at $1,586, the lowest closing price since July.

November a mixed month for foreclosure activities

LOS ANGELES – Fewer U.S. homes entered the foreclosure process or were taken back by banks in November, reflecting a seasonal pullback in foreclosure activity by lenders and mortgage servicers. But for some homeowners already behind on their mortgage payments, the end-of-year slowdown isn’t likely to provide much of a reprieve.

In all, 224,394 U.S. properties received a foreclosure-related notice last month, down 3 percent from October and down 14 percent from a year ago, the foreclosure listing firm RealtyTrac Inc. said Thursday. That amounts to one in every 579 households. Initial default notices fell 8 percent from October and were down 9 percent from a year ago.

But the number of homes in foreclosure and scheduled to be auctioned hit a nine-month high last month, RealtyTrac said. The surge came about because of a spike three months earlier in homes entering the foreclosure process for the first time. And unless those borrowers find a way to get current on their mortgage payments, many of those homes will likely be sold at auction or end up being taken back by the lender.

“Despite a seasonal slowdown similar to what we’ve seen each of the past four years, November’s numbers suggest a new set of incoming foreclosure waves,” said RealtyTrac CEO James Saccacio.

Oil prices suffer after OPEC raises its production quotas

Crude oil prices sagged Wednesday after the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries decided to boost its official production quotas to 30 million barrels a day, about where the group’s actual output has been running.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange, benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude oil fell to $94.90 a barrel, down more than 5 percent.

Some analysts said petroleum prices could remain relatively high in the coming months as Europe rebuilds its depleted inventories, world demand edges upward and the possibility of conflict with Iran casts a shadow on the global market. But the weak state of the U.S. and European economies, plus new oil supplies available outside of OPEC — attractive at current prices — could also erode the cartel’s efforts.

“As long as oil is above $70 (a barrel), no one will slow down any oil investment,” said Fadel Gheit, oil analyst with Oppenheimer & Co. “It’s still a very lucrative business.”

The 12-member OPEC cartel said the new quota would cover output by all of its members, making room for Libya and Iraq, both of which are still recovering from conflict.

— From news service reports