Global stocks tumble as investors flee risk on coronavirus fears

TOKYO (Reuters) – Global stock futures and Asian shares tumbled in choppy trade on Wednesday, as worries about the coronavirus pandemic eclipsed hopes broad policy support would combat the economic fallout from the outbreak.

Most traditional safe-haven assets were also under pressure as battered investors looked to unwind their damaged positions, leading to wide discrepancies between various markets.

Euro Stoxx 50 futures fell 4.5%, boding ill for European stock markets.

In Asia, MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan dropped 1.4% to a low last seen in late 2016, led by a 6.4% fall in Australia. Japan’s Nikkei erased early gains to dip 0.2%.

U.S. stock futures fell 3.7% in Asia, falling to their daily limit outside U.S. trade, a day after the S&P 500 rose 6% and Dow Jones rose 5.2% or 1,049 points.

“A rise of 1,000 points in Dow is something you see only during a financial crisis. It is not a good sign,” said Tomoaki Shishido, senior fixed income strategist at Nomura Securities.

“A rise of 100 points would be much better for the economy.”

Big price swings have left market participants nursing losses, making them reluctant to jump back into the market and thereby reducing trading volume.

The increase in Wall Street shares the previous day came as policymakers cobbled together packages to counter the impact of the virus.

The Trump administration on Tuesday unveiled a $1 trillion stimulus package that could deliver $1,000 cheques to Americans within two weeks to buttress an economy hit by coronavirus while many other governments look to fiscal stimulus.

“That would be bigger than a $787 billion package the Obama administration came up with after the Lehman crisis, so in terms of size it is quite big,” said Masahiro Ichikawa, senior strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui Asset Management.

“Yet stock markets will likely remain capped by worries about the spreading coronavirus,” he said.

Britain unveiled a 330 billion pounds ($400 billion) rescue package for businesses threatened with collapse while France is to pump 45 billion euros ($50 billion) of crisis measures into its economy to help companies and workers.

Still, forecasters at banks are projecting a steep economic contraction in at least the second quarter as governments take draconian measures to combat the virus, shutting restaurants, closing schools and calling on people to stay home.

The U.S. Federal Reserve stepped in again on Tuesday to ease funding stress among corporates by reopening its Commercial Paper Funding Facility to underwrite short-term corporate loans.

“While markets react to positive news on stimulus, that doesn’t last long. I think there are a lot of banks and investors whose balance sheet was badly hit and they still have lots of positions to sell,” said Shin-ichiro Kadota, senior currency and rates strategist at Barclays.


The damage to markets was apparent in bond markets as well.

U.S. Treasuries hardly recovered from their big losses on Tuesday, when the 10-year yield hit to a two-week high of 1.105%. It last stood at 0.999%.

“The staggering thing is, bonds have fallen even as the Fed has been buying 40 billion dollars of bonds every day. That far outpaces the Fed’s previous episodes of quantitative easing and shows just how much selling pressure there is now,” said Nomura’s Shishido.

Some market players said talk of big stimulus is raising concerns about the long-term outlook of U.S. fiscal health, putting pressure on long-term U.S. government bonds.

The spread between 30-year and five-year yields rose to almost 1%, the highest since September 2017. The U.S. 30-year bonds yield 1.620%.

In the currency market, the dollar edged down amid signs central bank measures were beginning to ease some of the funding squeeze, but still retained most of its whopping overnight gains on mounting fears about the coronavirus crisis.

The Australian dollar bounced back to $0.6019 after having hit a 17-year low of low of $0.5958 the previous day.

The kiwi recovered to $0.5961 after hitting a 11-year trough of $0.5919.

The dollar lost 0.6% against the yen to 107.00 yen while the euro was steady at $1.1004.

U.S. oil futures sank to near their 2016 trough of around $26 per barrel on demand worries and a Saudi-instigated price war. They last stood at $26.51, down 1.63%.

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