Catalonia weighs on European markets as bitcoin tanks again

LONDON — Stock markets around the world eased back Friday in light pre-holiday trading and amid renewed uncertainty over the restive Spanish region of Catalonia. Bitcoin endured another big retreat and means the volatile crypto-currency has lost a quarter of its value in just 24 hours.

KEEPING SCORE: In a shortened pre-Christmas trading session, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares came back from all-time highs to end 0.2 percent lower at 7,592.66. Germany's DAX fell 0.3 percent at 13,073 while the CAC 40 in France declined 0.5 percent to 5,359. Spain's IBEX underperformed, trading 1.2 percent lower at 10,180. U.S. stock were poised for a flat opening with Dow futures and the broader S&P 500 futures down 0.3 percent.

CATALONIA: Snap elections in Catalonia saw parties that are pushing for the region's independence from Spain claim a majority of seats in the new parliament. The elections took place after Spain's government fired the previous regional government, arrested some of its leaders and dissolved the Catalan parliament. The likely continuing political unrest and uncertainty is unwelcome for investors if the early market response Friday is anything to go by.

ANALYST TAKE: "This remains a bit of a slow burner and it's hard to assess where the political machinations will take us, but investors are wisely taking a little risk off the table," said Neil Wilson, senior market analyst at ETX Capital.

BITCOIN: A bitcoin sell-off that began at the beginning of the week is gaining momentum. Shortly before U.S. markets opened Friday, bitcoin was trading at $13,659.85, according to the tracking site CoinDesk. The cost had soared close to $20,000 as of Sunday. That is a radical price change in just one month. In mid-November, the bitcoin was trading at less than $6,000. The crypto currency has been notoriously volatile, with a significant crash every quarter. Yet this week has been a particularly unstable, and could be biggest sell-off for bitcoin in years.

THE QUOTE: "What we're seeing in Bitcoin in recent days is what many people have been anticipating for a while which is speculators getting burned by a sharp and aggressive correction," said Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at OANDA. "The rally over the last couple of months has left Bitcoin vulnerable to this kind of move and it seems the run up to Christmas has triggered some profit taking on the rally and even a shift into some alternative coins."

THE DAY IN ASIA: Hong Kong's Hang Seng index added 0.7 percent to 29,578.01 and the Kospi in South Korea climbed 0.4 percent to 2,440.54. The Shanghai Composite index slipped 0.1 percent to 3,297.06 and the S&P ASX 200 in Australia gained 0.2 percent to 6,069.70. India's Sensex climbed 0.5 percent to 33,907.43. Shares in Southeast Asia were mixed.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude gave up 35 cents to trade at $58.01 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange while Brent crude, which is used to price international oils, lost 32 cents to $64.58 per barrel.

CURRENCIES: The euro was down 0.2 percent at $1.1852 while the dollar rose 0.1 percent to 113.39 yen.

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