Stocks ease as gloomy data, virus shocks dampen US stimulus hopes - GulfToday

Stocks ease as gloomy data, virus shocks dampen US stimulus hopes


Employees at the Volkswagen assembly line in Wolfsburg, Germany. Volkswagen reported a nearly 50% drop in its 2020 adjusted operating profit on Friday. File/Reuters

Global shares slipped off record highs on Friday as gloomy data reminded investors of the struggles facing the economic recovery, curbing a rally fuelled by hopes of US stimulus by newly inaugurated President Joe Biden.

European and Chinese stock markets retreated on Friday as the focus switched back to the economic impact of fresh virus shocks.

Wall Street’s main indexes opened lower on Friday after hitting record levels, as shares of blue-chip technology stalwarts Intel and IBM tumbled following their quarterly results.

Sentiment in Europe was already more cautious after Thursday’s European Central Bank meeting, in which the bank’s message was perceived as more hawkish than expected.

The yield on Italian 10-year benchmark bonds touched its highest since early November on reports that Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte may be tempted by the prospect of a snap election.

The Euro STOXX 600 was 1% weaker, heading for its worst daily showing of the year so far, as investors digested weaker flash PMI readings for January. Lockdown restrictions to contain the coronavirus pandemic hit the bloc’s dominant service industry.

The FTSE 100 index slipped 0.7% as data showed British retailers struggled to recover in December from a partial coronavirus lockdown the previous month.

The MSCI world equity index, which tracks shares in almost 50 countries, was 0.3% softer following three straight sessions of gains. E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 stumbled 0.7%.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia Pacific stocks outside of Japan was 0.8% lower.

The risk-off mood followed a period of relief after the transition of power in the United States, culminating in Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday, and strong expectations that US stimulus will provide continued support for global assets.

Republicans in the US Congress have indicated they are willing to work with Biden on his administration’s top priority, a $1.9 trillion US fiscal stimulus plan, though some are opposed to the price tag.

Democrats took control of the US Senate on Wednesday, though they will still need Republican support to pass the plan.

Wall Street’s main indexes opened lower on Friday after hitting record levels, as shares of blue-chip technology stalwarts Intel and IBM tumbled following their quarterly results.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 34.4 points, or 0.11%, at the open to 31141.56. The S&P 500 fell 8.8 points, or 0.23%, at the open to 3844.24, while the Nasdaq Composite dropped 56.1 points, or 0.41%, to 13474.805 at the opening bell.

IBM Corp slumped 8.2% and was the biggest loser among Dow components trading premarket after it missed estimates for quarterly revenue, hurt by a rare sales decline in its software unit.

Intel Corp shed about 5% as new Chief Executive Officer Pat Gelsinger’s post-earnings comments suggested the lack of a strong embrace of outsourcing.

The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq ended at a record high on Thursday on optimism about further pandemic aid under the Biden administration.

The Senate Finance Committee will vote on Friday on Janet Yellen’s nomination for Treasury secretary, an early litmus test of bipartisan support for President Joe Biden’s ambitious plans for coronavirus relief, infrastructure investment and tax hikes.

At 08:20am, Dow E-minis were down 244 points, or 0.79%, S&P 500 E-minis were down 28 points, or 0.73%. Nasdaq 100 E-minis were down 83.5 points, or 0.62%.

Breakthroughs in COVID-19 vaccines have propelled the three main US stock indexes to record levels. The S&P 500 has climbed more than 14% since the Nov. 3 elections, led by gains in cyclicals such as energy and banks as well as small-cap stocks.

China’s composite stock index slid 0.4%, while the blue-chip CSI300 index edged up 0.1%.

Travel plans were in limbo for tens of millions of people in China’s northern cities. They have been under some kind of lockdown amid worries that undetected coronavirus infections could spread quickly during the Lunar New Year holiday, which is just weeks away. China reported 103 COVID-19 cases on Friday.

In currency markets, the US dollar gained after three straight days of losses, though it was still on track for its biggest weekly loss since mid-December. The currency was slightly up on the day at 90.182.

The Japanese yen was down around 0.1% against the dollar, at 103.63.

In commodities, oil prices were weighed down by worries that new pandemic restrictions in China will curb fuel demand in the world’s biggest oil importer.

Brent crude futures fell 2.5% to $54.68 a barrel. US crude was 2.6% lower at $51.75 per barrel.

Gold prices fell on Friday as US Treasury yields rose, though the metal was on course for its best week in five helped by hopes of a large US stimulus.

Spot Gold fell 0.6% to $1,859.10 per ounce by 0828 GMT, retreating from a near two-week peak hit on Thursday. For the week, it rose 1.8% - its biggest weekly gain since the week ending Dec. 18. US Gold futures eased 0.3% to $1,860.90.

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