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World Stocks Sink as China Fights Inflation

BANGKOK -- World stocks sank Monday, a day after China's central bank undertook yet another anti-inflation move in an attempt to get control of fast-rising consumer prices.

Oil prices fell below $109 a barrel as gasoline prices jumped to $4 a gallon in six U.S. states, raising fears higher fuel costs will undermine crude demand.

European shares were down in early trading. Britain's FTSE 100 was 0.4% lower to 5,969.91. Germany's DAX slipped 0.7% to 7,127.41, and France's CAC-40 was down 0.9% to 3,938.55.

Wall Street was headed to a lower opening as well, with Dow Jones Industrial Average futures off 0.5% to 12,243 and S&P 500 futures down 0.6% to 1,310.50.

Japan's Nikkei 225 index fell 0.4% to close at 9,556.65, with shares of Toyota (TM) falling 0.5% as it remained unclear when the world's No. 1 automaker would resume full production in Japan.

Toyota said Monday it had resumed production at all of its plants in Japan for the first time since last month's massive earthquake and tsunami, but they were operating at only half-capacity due to parts shortages.

Markets had difficulty shrugging off the latest move by China's central bank to tamp down inflation, which jumped to a 32-month high in March. On Sunday, the People's Bank of China announced that the deposit reserve ratio for most banks would be raised -- the fourth reserve increase this year.

Beijing's failure to cool prices and growth have frustrated communist leaders who also face mounting foreign pressure to allow China's yuan to rise in value and narrow its swollen trade surplus. Reflecting rising official urgency, Premier Wen Jiabao last week called for authorities to step up the anti-inflation fight.

Dariusz Kowalczyk, senior economist at Credit Agricole CIB in Hong Kong, said the reserve ratio hike was not surprising given Wen's "hawkish comments."

"Inflation is the main risk to economic and social stability, and given strong growth, fighting price pressures is becoming the paramount objective of policy makers," Kowalczyk said.

Monetary policy tightening moves often stymie investor sentiment, as they did Monday, on concerns growth will be hampered. Hong Kong's Hang Seng dropped 0.7% to 23,830.31 and South Korea's Kospi slipped 0.1% to 2,137.72. Benchmarks in India, Singapore, Taiwan and Indonesia were also lower.
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