Surging virus cases drag down Asian stocks, oil prices

The US, Mexico and South Africa have reported record daily jumps in new cases, raising worries over the global economy.

US coronavirus testing
More than 60,500 new COVID-19 infections were reported across the US on Thursday, the largest single-day tally of cases by any country since the virus emerged late last year [File: Sergio Flores/Reuters]

Asian shares, United States stock futures and oil prices fell on Friday as record-breaking new coronavirus cases in several US states and elsewhere stoked concerns that new lockdowns could derail the economic recovery, while investors looked ahead to earnings season.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell 0.76 percent. Australian stocks dropped 0.42 percent, while Japanese stocks declined by 0.4 percent.

Shares in China fell 0.72 percent, the first decline in more than a week, as investors booked profits on a surge in equities to a five-year high.

E-mini futures for the US S&P 500 erased early gains to trade down 0.01 percent.

The Antipodean currencies fell and the yen rose as traders shunned risk and sought safe havens.

US crude oil fell 0.23 percent to $39.53 a barrel, while Brent crude edged 0.02 percent lower to $42.34 per barrel due to concerns about a long-term decline in global energy demand.

More than 60,500 new COVID-19 infections were reported across the US on Thursday, the largest single-day tally of cases by any country since the virus emerged late last year in China.

That heightened concerns that renewed lockdowns could hurt the recovery in the world’s biggest economy.

South Africa and Mexico also reported their biggest one-day jumps in new cases on Thursday.

The number of Americans filing for jobless benefits dropped to a near four-month low last week, data showed.

But investors remained cautious as the report also said a record 32.9 million people were collecting unemployment cheques in the third week of June, supporting expectations the labour market would take years to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

“Weakness in financial stocks, with the bank sub-index down 2.5 percent, comes ahead of next week’s [second quarter] reporting season that sees JP Morgan, Citigroup and Wells Fargo all report next Tuesday and following news that Wells Fargo is planning to cut ‘thousands’ of jobs starting later this year,” said Ray Attrill, head of FX strategy at National Australia Bank.

On Thursday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 1.39 percent and the S&P 500 dropped 0.56 percent, but the tech-heavy Nasdaq rose 0.53 percent to its fifth record closing high in six days.

Bubble trouble?

Mainland Chinese shares fell on Friday for the first time since June 29. Stock prices there had surged to the highest since 2015 on Thursday, fuelled by retail investor enthusiasm and policy support, even as regulators cracked down on lending for share purchases – so-called margin financing – and as state media warned of market risks.

The rise in China’s mainland equities has some similarities to the bubble there five years ago, but it is not yet close in scale, and prices could continue to inflate for some time, said Capital Economics economist Oliver Jones.

“That said, another boom-bust cycle in China’s equities could have even greater knock-on effects for markets elsewhere than before, with foreign holdings far higher now than five years ago,” he said.

Fuelled by illegal margin lending, the 2015-16 market bubble saw the benchmark Shanghai index fall more than 40 percent from its peak in just a few weeks.

In the currency market, the yen edged up against the dollar and the euro as investors bought the traditional safe haven.

The Australian and New Zealand dollars, which are often traded as a liquid proxy for risk because of their close ties to China’s economy, both fell against the greenback.

The Aussie also fell as local officials use lockdowns and border restrictions to contain a sudden increase in coronavirus cases.

Source: Reuters