Stocks, oil plunge as fears of virus-linked recession rise

Analysts say that only a ‘medical breakthrough’ is likely to end the plunge in global stocks as the virus spreads.

Shares across Asia tumbled after the US Senate blocked a significant aid package and economists warned of surging unemployment [File: Tyrone Siu/Reuters]
Shares across Asia tumbled after the US Senate blocked a significant aid package and economists warned of surging unemployment [File: Tyrone Siu/Reuters]

Asian shares slid on Monday as more countries all but shut down in the fight against the coronavirus, threatening to overwhelm policymakers’ frantic efforts to cushion what is clear to be a deep global recession.

United States stock futures lead the tumble at the start of trading, hitting limit down after a US economic aid package was stalled in Senate.

In a taste of the pain to come, E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 dived 5 percent to hit limit down after losing more than 4 percent on Friday.

Shares in New Zealand plunged more than 10 percent after Prime Minister Jacinda Arden said the country was preparing to go into self isolation, with all non-essential services to be shut over the next 48 hours.

The commodity-heavy Australian market lost as much as 8 percent before recovering some losses to trade down 5.7 percent.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan lost 2 percent, with South Korea badly hit.

Japan’s Nikkei added 0.8 percent, perhaps aided by expectations of more asset buying by the Bank of Japan.

Oil prices tanked, falling towards their lowest levels in 17 years after prospects for a deal between The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and the US to limit oil production appeared to fade and mass bans on travel worldwide crushed demand for fuel.

Airlines cancelled more flights as Australia and New Zealand advised against non-essential domestic travel, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) halted flights for two weeks and Singapore and Taiwan banned foreign transit passengers.

Brent crude futures slid $1.68 to $25.30 a barrel, while US crude shed $1.01 to $21.62.

Analysts fear the collapse in oil and other commodity prices will set off a deflationary wave making it harder for monetary policy easing to gain traction as economies shut down.

Nearly one in three Americans were ordered to stay home on Sunday to slow the spread of the disease, while Italy banned internal travel as deaths there reached 5,476.

Trump went on TV to approve disaster deceleration requests from New York and Washington, while St Louis Federal Reserve President James Bullard warned unemployment could reach 30 percent unless more was done fiscally.

In the Senate, Democrats blocked a significant aid package as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the measure fell short of her goals.

US stocks have already fallen more than 30 percent from their mid-February and even the safest areas of the bond market experiencing liquidity stress as distressed funds are forced to sell good assets to cover positions gone bad.

Waiting for a cure

“It would be a brave, or foolish, man to call the bottom in equities without a dramatic medical breakthrough,” said Alan Ruskin, head of G10 FX strategy at Deutsche Bank.

Also needed would be evidence that China could re-emerge from the virus without reigniting infections, and that other large economies had hit inflection points for infection rates, he added.

“Even were social distancing to subside at the earliest plausible dates in Europe and the US, it will have done extraordinary damage to confidence in a host of key sectors,” Ruskin said.

The mounting economic toll led to a large 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 US 10-year note were down at 0.80 percent, having dived all the way to 0.84 percent on Friday from a top of 1.28 percent.

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 percent to $0.5749.

The US dollar started firm but took a step back after partisan battles in the US Senate stopped a coronavirus response bill from advancing. It eased 0.4 percent to 110.43 yen, while the euro recouped losses to be unchanged at $1.0692.

The US dollar was a large gainer last week as investors fled to the liquidity of the world’s reserve currency, while some funds, companies and countries sought more cash to cover their dollar borrowings.

“The ‘dash for cash’ will remain a key driver of currency markets this week,” said Kim Mundy, a currency strategist at the Commonwealth Bank of Australia or CBA.

“We expect strong USD demand to continue to cause liquidity problems and keep volatility elevated. Direct intervention by central banks in currency markets to reduce market dysfunction is possible.”

The steady rise in the US dollar undermined gold, which slipped 0.3 percent to $1,493.83 per ounce.

Source : News Agencies

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