LONDON/SYDNEY/HONG KONG (Reuters) – Financial markets around the world took another hammering on Monday as a rising tide of national coronavirus lockdowns threatened to overwhelm policymakers’ frantic efforts to cushion what is likely to be a deep global recession.
European stocks dived 4.5% as they reopened and commodity markets also saw more heavy selling as the global death toll from the virus passed 14,000.
Investors tried to take cover in ultra-safe government bonds and in the Japanese yen in currency markets but with so much uncertainty about when any semblance of normality might return there were few places to really hide.
“Further deterioration in the COVID-19 outbreak is severely damaging the global economy,” Morgan Stanley analysts warned on Monday. “We expect global growth to dip close to GFC (global financial crisis) lows, and U.S. growth to a 74-year low in 2020.”
Goldman Sachs sent a similar warning and in a taste of the pain to come, E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 dived 3.5% [.N] and MSCI’s main world stocks index was down 1.6% and almost at 4-year lows.
UBS Australian head of equities distribution George Kanaan said global financial markets were gripped by fear, which seemed unlikely to ease any time soon, despite the co-ordinated efforts of governments and central banks around the world.
“I have been in the financial markets for 27 years and I have never seen anything like this,” he told Reuters by telephone from Sydney.
“This is unprecedented in terms of fears and there are two elements driving that.
“First is that this involves masses of people. In the GFC, that was an event that occurred in the investment banks around the world, it didn’t involve people on the street. The second is that social media is helping to drive this fear and panic.”
In Asian trade, MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan lost 5.4%, with New Zealand’s market shedding a record 10% at one point as the government closed all non-essential businesses.
Shanghai blue chips dropped 3.3%, though Japan’s Nikkei rose 2.0% aided by expectations of more aggressive asset buying by the Bank of Japan. In Australia, the S&P/ASX200 dropped 5.62% to take the index to a seven-year low.
Globally, analysts are dreading data on weekly U.S. jobless claims due on Thursday amid forecasts they could balloon by 750,000, and possibly by more than a million.
U.S. stocks have fallen more than 30% from their mid-February peak and even the safest areas of the bond market are experiencing liquidity stress as distressed funds are forced to sell good assets to cover positions gone bad.
In contrast to the response by authorities to the global health crisis, however, are calls from some on Wall Street to ease restrictions as soon as possible to give the economy room to recover.
“Extreme measures to flatten the virus ‘curve’ is sensible-for a time-to stretch out the strain on health infrastructure,” former Goldman Sachs Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein tweeted.
“But crushing the economy, jobs and morale is also a health issue-and beyond. Within a very few weeks let those with a lower risk to the disease return to work.”
MOUNTING ECONOMIC TOLL
The mounting economic toll led to a major rally in sovereign bonds late last week, with efforts by central banks to restore liquidity in the market allowing for more two-way trade.
Yields on the benchmark U.S. 10-year note were down at 0.80%, having dived all the way to 0.84% on Friday from a top of 1.28%. European benchmarks like German Bunds were at around -0.36% down more than 20 bps from last week’s 10-month highs.
Calls were continuing for the euro zone’s 19 governments to issue the bloc’s first joint bonds to try to get the region through the economic crush of the virus lockdowns.
In New Zealand, the central bank announced its first outright purchase of government paper aiming to inject much-needed liquidity into the local market.
In currency markets, the first instinct on Monday was to dump those leveraged to global growth and commodity prices, sending the Australian dollar down 0.8% to $0.5749.
The U.S. dollar started firm but took a step back after partisan battles in the U.S. Senate stopped a coronavirus response bill from advancing.
The dollar eased 0.5% to 110.31 yen while the euro recouped losses to be up 0.1% at $1.0705.
The dollar had been a major gainer last week as investors fled to the liquidity of the world’s reserve currency, while some funds, companies and countries desperately sought more cash to cover their dollar borrowings.
The steady rise in the dollar undermined gold, which slipped 0.3% to $1,493.83 per ounce.
Oil prices were sharply lower. Brent crude futures dropped $1.30, or 4.9%, to $25.66 a barrel, while U.S. crude was down 29 cent to $22.34.
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