Debt, growth and credit ratings dominated markets which rallied slightly on Thursday as the European Central Bank faces up to a new eurozone crisis and the US economy struggles for traction.
Spain, hit by record-high borrowing costs, risked a closely watched bond issue to raise 3.0-4.0 billion euros but had to pay investors much more again to raise the funds, highlighting the eurozone's funding problems.
The other eurozone country in the firing line, Italy was also in sharp focus after Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said on Wednesday that "we need an immediate action plan of action which responds to the markets."
This would add to a crisis budget package of 47.9 billion euros ($68.6 billion) to ward of market pressure last month.
He said the markets had "incorrectly" judged Italian debt and growth potential but acknowledged the country needed new measures to reform labour markets and bolster competition.
owever, Berlusconi, in common with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero who delayed his holiday to fight the crisis, had nothing significant to say about new measures.
At Goodbody Stockbrokers in Dublin, economist Juliet Tennent commented: "It is clear that despite strides to address the debt problems of both the US and Europe, uncertainty persists."
At Deutsche Bank, research analyst Gilles Moec said: "The bond market seems to be stabilising this morning in Italy and Spain but the situation remains very fragile."
Global stock markets steadied on Thursday after very sharp falls in recent days, with investors seeking the flight of safety in gold, the yen, Swiss franc and German bonds.
The Japanese authorities intervened to push the yen, which has risen in response to doubts surrounding the dollar and euro, endangering Japan's recovery from the economic turmoil caused by earthquake damage in March.
In the United States, even though the US debt ceiling was raised at the last minute, there remains deep anxiety about control of a loan burden now equal to 100 percent of Gross Domestic Product and signs of flagging growth.
US jobs data on Friday is keenly awaited but the general view is that the figures will be gloomy.
Much attention is also tracking the credit rating agencies which warn that they are watching the US debt-growth combination closely, and in case the renewed strains in the eurozone trigger new ratings warnings.
The spotlight is on the European Central Bank, with markets watching for any sign it will resume purchases of bonds issued by countries under renewed pressure such as Italy and Spain so as to ease the pressure on them.
"At least they can send a message to say that this cannot carry on and there will be measures taken," analyst Angel de Molina Rodriguez said at Spanish brokerage firm Tressis.
"The ECB does not like buying bonds as it does not want to fund governments -- but things are different in a liquidity crisis where there is a risk of systemic events," said Dirk Schumacher at Goldman Sachs Global Economics.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso acknowledged the problem Wednesday, saying that the pressure on Italy and Spain, although "clearly unwarranted," reflected concern "about the systemic capacity of the euro area to respond to the evolving crisis."
A July eurozone summit agreed a second Greek debt rescue in the hope of preventing debt contagion from dragging down Italy and Spain but it has failed to stem the tide, with borrowing costs for weaker eurozone states all rising to unsustainable levels and beyond.
European stocks have fallen, although they rallied slightly on Thursday, and overall sentiment has been hard hit by the US debt drama.
Spanish Finance Minister Elena Salgado, who worked with Zapatero on the crisis late on Wednesday, commented: "We cannot rule out that the volatility will continue for a few days ... We must show the markets determination in reforms."
In London, the Centre for Economics and Business Research commented: "Realistically, Italy is bound to default but Spain may just get away without having to do so."