Jittery European markets fell hard today on fears for the health of the banking and car sectors and doubts about the effectiveness of a controversial US economic stimulus package.

London's FTSE closed 101 points lower at 4,034 - down 2.4% - retreating for the fourth day in a row. The Paris CAC dropped 87 points (2.9%) to end at 2,962 while the Frankfurt DAX slumped 150 points (3.4%) to 4,367.

Dublin's ISEQ index closed at 2,190 this evening, down 61 points or 2.7%. Shares in the banks were mixed with AIB jumping 20% to end at 66 cent, while Irish Life and Permanent slumped almost 13% to €1.26 after two credit rating agencies - Moody's and Fitch's - said they were downgrading the bank after the recent resignations of its key senior management and the economic downturn here.

Shares in United Drug also tumbled 21% to close at €1.91 after it said it expects its results for the first half of its financial year to be lower than a year earlier.

US stocks also fell sharply this evening as investors confronted fresh signs that the recession is worsening and worried that efforts to stabilise the beleaguered financial system may not prove sufficient. The Dow Jones slumped 272 points (3.5%) to stand at 7,850 while the Nasdaq dropped 59 points (3.8%) to 1,534.

Earlier, Tokyo's Nikkei 225 index closed 105 points lower at 7,645 after Finance Minister Shoichi Nakagawa announced he would quit after appearing to be drunk at a Group of Seven meeting in Rome.