Asian share markets took a breather on Wednesday as warnings of the worst global recession since the 1930s underlined the economic damage already done even as some countries tried to re-open for business.
China moved again to cushion its economy, cutting a key medium-term interest rate to record lows and paving the way for a similar reduction in benchmark loan rates.
While not unexpected, it did help MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan edge up 0.2 per cent to a fresh one-month top.
Shanghai blue chips, however, eased 0.3 per cent. Japan’s Nikkei dipped 0.2 per cent, though that followed a 3 per cent jump the previous session.
E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 fell 0.5 per cent, following a 3 per cent rise in New York. EUROSTOXX 50 futures and FTSE futures were both barely changed.
“Flattening infection curves and the thoughts of more stimulus have lifted all boats,” said Stephen Innes, chief global market strategist at AxiCorp.
“However, appearances can be deceiving as behind the headlines lie the most gnarly storm clouds building, suggesting there is still much to be worried about.”
Even as some US states considered relaxing restrictions, the country’s death toll rose by at least 2,228 on Tuesday, a single-day record, according to a Reuters tally.
President Donald Trump responded by saying some states could still open shortly or even immediately. He also temporarily halted funding to the World Health Organization, saying it should have done more to head off the pandemic.
Much economic damage has already been done, with the International Monetary Fund predicting the world this year would suffer its steepest downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Bruce Kasman, chief economist at JPMorgan, warned such a slowdown would take a heavy toll on corporate earnings.
“We project global profits to experience a roughly 70 percent peak-to-trough decline in 2020,” he wrote in a note.
“Even with a projected strong subsequent rebound, global profits are expected to stand 20% below their forecasted pre-pandemic level at the end of next year.”
Shares of JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo & Co both fell on Tuesday as the banks set aside billions of dollars to cover potential loan losses from the pandemic.
Bond markets are still wagering on tough times ahead, along with unlimited support from central banks and a disinflationary pulse from lower energy prices.
Yields on US 10-year Treasuries have settled around 0.74 per cent, more than 100 basis points below where they started the year.
That drop in yields combined with the vast amounts of cash being created by the Federal Reserve has been a drag on the US dollar in recent sessions.
Currencies leveraged to global growth, including the Australian and New Zealand dollars, have led the way higher though the dollar has also lost ground to its major peers.
Early Wednesday, the dollar was down at 107.07 yen having shed 0.5 per cent overnight, while the euro firmed to $1.0980. The dollar index was near its lowest in two weeks at 98.854.
The dollar pullback and a tide of cheap money from central banks has burnished gold prices, with the metal hitting its highest since late 2012. It was last at $1,724 an ounce.
In energy markets, oil prices steadied on hopes for purchases by consumer countries for their strategic stockpiles on a scale not before seen.
US crude was last up 32 cents at $20.43, having shed 10 per cent on Tuesday, while Brent crude edged up 16 cents to $29.76 in erratic trade.
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