Pandemic fears curb stocks as markets wait on U.S. jobs test next

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Asian share markets were pinned down on Thursday, haunted by the rising U.S. coronavirus death toll, and with investors braced for more signs of economic pain in the world’s largest economy, ahead of another likely record week of jobless claims.

With hopes growing that the worst of the outbreak may have passed for China and South Korea, the mood was less bleak than on Wall Street, which plunged overnight.

European futures inched higher, with EuroSTOXX 50 futures up 0.2% and DAX and FTSE futures making tiny gains. E-mini futures for the S&P 500 bounced 1.6% after the Wall St rout.

Oil rose amid hints of an end to the Russia-Saudi Arabia price war, and riskier currencies made headway late in the session.

Yet MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan struggled to advance, and traded flat. Japan’s Nikkei followed a heavy fall on Wednesday with a 1.4% drop.

“Everyone’s trying to figure out how much of the month-end moves last week were just a bear market rally, or real – it’s that dance,” said Kay Van-Petersen global macro strategist at Saxo Capital Markets in Singapore.

“My viewpoint is that we’re still in a bear market and the U.S. is not even close to pricing in the massive economic dislocation, let alone the deaths they’re going to find.”

Markets in Hong Kong and Shanghai eked out modest gains. [.HK][.SS]

Australia’s bank-heavy benchmark stayed in the red, closing down 2%, after New Zealand’s central bank ordered a suspension of bank dividends – hitting Australia’s banks, which own most of New Zealand’s big lenders.

Bonds jumped and the yield on safe-haven 10-year U.S. Treasuries – which falls when prices rise – dropped as far as 0.5680%, its lowest since March 10, and hardly budged higher.

U.S. labour market data will likely provide the next test of market sentiment and of the visible pain in the real economy.

Initial claims for jobless benefits last week probably surpassed the week-ago record of 3.3 million, with 3.5 million expected, according to a Reuters survey of economists.


China and South Korea have shown signs of controlling the virus, reporting falling numbers of new cases, but progress remains fragile and infections are soaring globally.

The World Health Organization said the global case count will reach 1 million and the death toll 50,000 in the next few days. It currently stands at 46,906.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who had initially played down the outbreak, told reporters at the White House on Wednesday that he is considering a plan to halt flights to coronavirus hot zones in the United States.

White House medical advisers now forecast that even if Americans follow unprecedented stay-at-home orders, some 100,000 to 240,000 people could die from the respiratory disease.

“Difficult days are ahead for our nation,” Trump said.

“We’re going to have a couple of weeks, starting pretty much now, but especially a few days from now, that are going to be horrific.”

In currency markets, the Australian and New Zealand dollars made 0.6% gains late in the Asian session, along with some emerging markets currencies, though not enough to recoup steep losses from Wednesday.[FRX/]

The U.S. dollar was steady against the euro and yen, last standing at $1.0960 per euro and at 107.23 Japanese yen.

“Ultimately, the dollar is what everyone wants to hold right now, and demand for dollars is not going to abate until the pandemic is under control,” Rob Carnell, chief economist at ING Asia in Hong Kong, told the Reuters Global Markets Forum.

“No one really knows when that is going to be.”

Spot gold fell 0.4% to $1,585.90 an ounce. [GOL/]

Oil futures bounced after overnight drops. [O/R]

Brent futures last traded $2.57 firmer at $27.31 per barrel and U.S. crude was 8% higher at $22.00 a barrel.

(Graphic: Global currencies vs. dollar link: here)

(Graphic: MSCI All Country Wolrd Index Market Cap link: here)

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