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LONDON: European stocks dived on Wednesday as natural gas prices spiked to record peaks and oil hit new multi-year highs, driving up costs, fanning inflation and sparking concern over winter fuel bills.

Frankfurt, London and Paris equity markets lost about two percent on intensifying worries over elevated inflation, tighter global monetary policy, virus concerns and the spectre of a US debt default.

Natural gas markets were energised by expectations of rebounding demand in the looming northern hemisphere winter.

"It's panic and fear with winter just around the corner," Commerzbank analyst Carsten Fritsch told AFP.

Europe's Dutch TTF gas price rocketed as high as 162.12 euros per megawatt hour, while UK prices soared to 407.82 pence per therm before paring gains.

Gas demand is also heightened in Asia, and particularly from China.

"Natural gas prices have climbed to new peaks ... as insufficient levels of inventories ahead of the winter season drive concerns for a spike in inflation and energy prices for consumers," said XTB analyst Walid Koudmani.

US natural gas jumps 6% on higher demand, soaring global prices

"These supply constraints could translate into higher costs of fuel moving into the winter months, a prospect which could further slow down economic recovery and worsen moods across markets."

At the same time, oil has vaulted higher after OPEC and other major producers opted this week against increasing output by more than previously agreed -- despite tightening supplies and resurgent demand.

Brent oil vaulted to a fresh three-year peak at $83.47 per barrel, and New York's light sweet crude hit a seven-year pinnacle at $79.78.

"Oil continued to build on its OPEC-induced gains," noted PVM analyst Stephen Brennock.

Oil prices surge higher as equities unfazed

"The broader energy complex also made further headway into positive territory and included most notably surging gas prices."

Runaway gas prices are widely expected to ratchet up demand for crude, further spooking markets.

"To put it into context, benchmark gas prices are trading at the equivalent of more than $200 per barrel of oil," added Brennock.

"This should further encourage gas-to-oil switching and exacerbate the current supply deficit in the oil market."

In foreign exchange, the euro hit to a 14-month low at $1.1529 on growing hopes of US monetary policy tightening.

The US Federal Reserve is widely expected to soon announce it will begin cutting back its massive bond-buying programme, with interest rates possibly rising as soon as next year.

Other central banks have also hinted at moves soon or have already acted.

On Wednesday, the Reserve Bank of New Zealand announced a first rate rise in seven years, joining the banks of South Korea and Norway.

The crisis at Chinese developer Evergrande continues to cast a shadow as the firm drowns in more than $300 billion of debt and struggles to find the money to stay afloat.

Key figures around 1055 GMT

London - FTSE 100: DOWN 1.8 percent at 6,951.50 points

Frankfurt - DAX: DOWN 2.3 percent at 14,846.57

Paris - CAC 40: DOWN 2.2 percent at 6,430.30

EURO STOXX 50: DOWN 2.3 percent at 3,973.51

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: DOWN 1.1 percent at 27,528.87 (close)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng Index: DOWN 0.6 percent at 23,966.49 (close)

Shanghai - Composite: Closed for a holiday

New York - Dow: UP 0.9 percent at 34,314.67 (close)

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.1551 from $1.1539 at 2100 GMT on Tuesday

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.3570 from $1.3629

Euro/pound: DOWN at 85.03 pence from 85.10 pence

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 111.42 yen from 111.46 yen

Brent North Sea crude: DOWN 0.5 percent at $82.16 per barrel

West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 0.5 percent at $78.52

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