Markets recover as US stimulus offsets angst over new virus strain - GulfToday

Markets recover as US stimulus offsets angst over new virus strain

Stock Markets

Shoppers stand near a bank’s electronic board showing the share index in Hong Kong on Tuesday. Associated Press

Stocks rebounded on Tuesday, with Washington’s approval of an $892 billion pandemic relief package helping them recover some of the losses caused by fears over a highly infectious new strain of COVID-19.

The Euro STOXX 600 added 0.8%, its biggest one-day jump in over five weeks in sight. German and French indexes added 1% and 0.8% respectively.

London’s blue chips turned positive, too, recovering early losses even as Britain adjusts to strict lockdowns imposed to curb the spread of the new strain of coronavirus. Wall Street futures also edged into the black.

Fuelling the optimism, in part, was the US Congress’s approval on Monday of a coronavirus aid package after months of inaction. The first such aid since April came as the pandemic accelerated in the United States, infecting more than 214,000 people every day and slowing the economic recovery.

The bill includes $600 payments to most Americans and additional payments to millions of people thrown out of work during the pandemic.

Market players also took stock of the damage from a new COVID-19 variant, with investors betting that vaccines would still be effective against the new strain.

On Monday, countries across the world shut their borders to Britain because of fears over the new strain, snarling one of Europe’s most important trade routes just days before Britain is set to leave the European Union.

The discovery, just months before vaccines are expected to be widely available, brought back fears over the economic impact of new lockdowns to counter the virus, which has killed about 1.7 million people worldwide.

European shares had slumped 2.3%, their biggest one-day loss in nearly two months, in response.

The new strain “is a bump in the road, but that road is still leading to a much stronger recovery in the second half of next year,” said Hugh Gimber, global market strategist at J.P. Morgan Asset Management.

“Markets are a lot calmer today because of confidence that there is a big build up of pent-up demand and a return to much stronger levels of activity in the second half of next year.”

The MSCI world equity index, which tracks shares in 49 countries, was flat. Earlier, MSCI’s gauge of Asia-Pacific stocks outside Japan had sunk 0.8%.

The stimulus news helped prop up the dollar index, which was still on course for a third consecutive quarterly loss after dropping some 12.5% from a March peak.

The index, which measures the dollar against a basket of six major currencies, was last up 0.1% at 90.232, still below its Monday top of 90.978.

ING analysts said the US relief package “won’t be able to fully offset the effects of people staying at home as many businesses face tighter restrictions or are even forced to close.”

In Britain, sterling slipped 0.5% after tumbling as much as 2.5% versus the dollar on Monday to a 10-day low amid the twin fears over COVID and Brexit.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke on disagreements over fisheries that are barring a new trade deal, sources said.

Analysts remained pessimistic on the pound’s prospects, even after reports of progress in Brexit trade talks.

MUFG said in a note to clients it expected London and Brussels would strike a last-minute deal, but added: “Even if a trade deal is reached, upside potential for the pound will now be dampened by recent negative COVID developments in the UK.”

Oil dropped towards $50 a barrel on Tuesday, adding to losses from the previous session, as a mutant variant of the coronavirus in Britain revived concerns over demand recovery.

Detection of the new variant prompted several countries to close their borders to Britain. The BBC cited France’s Europe Minister as saying that the two countries would announce a deal to restart freight by Wednesday. Brent crude was down 79 cents, or 1.6%, at $50.12 a barrel by 1442 GMT, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude fell 75 cents, or 1.6%, to $47.22.

Both benchmarks slid nearly 3% on Monday, partly erasing recent gains driven by the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, seen as key to allowing a return to normal life.

“In the battle between immediate negative concerns and future optimism, the former is now fighting back,” said Tamas Varga of oil broker PVM.

The latest rally culminated in Brent hitting $52.48, its highest since March, on Friday. Some see potential for prices to fall further.

“The environment remains decidedly risk-averse,” said Jeffrey Halley of brokerage OANDA. “Given the scale of oil’s two-month rally, a deeper correction cannot be ruled out.”

Oil gained support from US Congress approval of a $892 billion coronavirus aid package after months of inaction.

In focus will be the latest US oil inventory reports, expected to show crude stocks fell by 3.3 million barrels. The American Petroleum Institute’s report is due at 2130 GMT.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies, a group known as OPEC+, are set to boost output by 500,000 barrels per day in January. There is no sign yet of any wavering induced by the price drop.

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