The Australian stockmarket fell below 5,000 points for the first time in nearly two years today as investors again took their lead from ailing markets in the US, Asia and Europe. Our market opened lower and then weakened after what was a depressing and at times ugly night of trading overseas, except for commodities which surged again. By 11.30am this morning, the All Ords and the ASX 200 were down 2%, with the ASX 200 slipping under the 5,000 mark to the lowest level since September 2006.

And the pressure on our markets isn’t going to go away. The European Central Bank is tonight expected to lift its main interest rate 0.25% to 4.25%, which will put more pressure on the US dollar, the US markets and boost oil and other commodity prices. A few hours later, the US jobs numbers for June will be out a day earlier than normal (because of the Independence Day holiday Friday night in the US). Economists say 60,000 jobs will be lost, but many in the market fear more than that and are now looking nervously at banks, airlines, car stocks, retailers and anything with debt and exposure to consumers.

US indices were down 1.6% to more than 2%. At 1261 points, the Standard & Poor’s 500 is within 11 points of where it stood in 1998. So much for the biggest boom ever. In Tokyo, the Nikkei Index opened lower for a 11th day in a row, adding to its longest losing streak in 40 years. if it continues falling today it will be the longest losing streak since 1953.

Both the Dow and the S&P 500 are now well into bear territory after their sharp falls last night (a bear market is a fall of 20% or more from their peak).

Oil prices jumped past $US145 a barrel for Brent crude, touching $US145.01 in Asian Trading. It was the first time oil price have been past $US145 a barrel. US West Texas Intermediate type crude was a bit cheaper, trading around $US144.30 in Asia as well. Oil prices are up more than 45% this year. It’s no wonder the Reserve Bank is so worried about their impact and is treating the sirse like a couple of interest rate increases. Figures out today showed the Australian services sector of the economy contracted last month and activity is now at a five year low. The sector has been in trouble since April, but the extent of JUne’s squeeze surprised.

Economists now wonder about the damage a rate rise from the ECB will do. Ireland is said to be tottering on the edge of recession, with Denmark, Spain, Italy and Portugal not far behind. Britain is slumping quickly. It’s not part of the eurozone and not covered by the ECB but a rate rise will have a knock on effect.

Figures overnight showed British manufacturing contracted in June, a complete surprise to the market, while inflation surged. Leading retailer, Marks and Spencer, shocked the market with a sales slump of more than 5% on a like-for-like basis and down went the shares 23%, and the sector as well. Taylor Wimpey, the country’s leading home builder couldn’t get investors to stump up all of the $1 billion in new capital, so the deal was abandoned. Its shares dropped 47% and other home builders followed.

Taylor Wimpey has warned that while it has written down its land bank by around $1.4 billion in value, it may breach banking loan restrictions by early next year.