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Stocks retreat as virus fears temper lockdown easing

Investors are growing hopeful for a rebound as businesses

London, United Kingdom | AFP | Stock markets mostly slipped Thursday after rallying for much of the week amid concerns over the long-term impact of the virus and worsening China-US relations.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones index slipped into negative territory at the opening bell, while in Europe, Frankfurt and Paris were also moderately lower, but London turned slightly positive thanks to a weaker pound.

Stock markets had presented a mixed picture in Asia earlier.

“The prospect of economies reopening and returning to something that resembles normal has, at times, been very positive for markets, as have positive vaccine and treatment trials, but it hasn’t all been good news,” said Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at Oanda Europe.

– ‘Some setbacks’ –

“There’s been some setbacks in countries previously lauded for their handling of the spread…, putting more emphasis on the dreaded second wave if the exit strategy isn’t handled properly” Erlam added.

“On top of that, tensions between the US and China have increased dramatically which is making investors nervous.”

The eurozone’s economic slump, meanwhile, has “likely bottomed out” after the bloc suffered a disastrous collapse under lockdowns to contain coronavirus, a closely watched survey by IHS Markit said on Thursday.

The dollar rose, as did oil prices.

Equities have enjoyed weeks of advances thanks to signs the pandemic is easing in major economies and the gradual lifting of lockdown measures that are expected to have sent the world into a deep recession.

But that optimism has been tempered by uncertainty about the future, while US President Donald Trump has continued to target China over the outbreak and threatened fresh tariffs on the country, fuelling worries of another trade war between the superpowers.

Trump on Wednesday tweeted that “it was the ‘incompetence of China’, and nothing else, that did this mass worldwide killing”.

– ‘Complacency’ –

Stephen Innes, of AxiCorp, warned that investors might not be taking the simmering tensions seriously enough.

“Markets may be pricing in far too much complacency as the US-China ‘phase one’ trade deal could be at risk, as the pandemic and resulting acute economic downturn have made China’s trade commitment to the US much more challenging to fulfil,” he said in a client note.

Minutes from the Federal Reserve have meanwhile highlighted its concerns about the impact of the outbreak.

US policymakers are worried that “even after social-distancing requirements were eased, some business models may no longer be economically viable”.

This would be the case especially if consumers decide to “avoid participating in particular forms of economic activity”, said minutes of the Fed’s last meeting.

Global infections from the novel coronavirus surpassed five million on Thursday as the pandemic played out unevenly across the planet.

– Key figures around 1330 GMT –

London – FTSE 100: UP 0.3 percent at 6,083.58 points

Frankfurt – DAX 30: DOWN 0.7 percent at 11,145.18

Paris – CAC 40: DOWN 0.5 percent at 4,475.52

EURO STOXX 50: DOWN 0.6 percent at 2,924.86

New York – Dow: DOWN 0.1 percent at 24,549.08

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.2 percent at 20,552.31 (close)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: DOWN 0.5 percent at 24,280.03 (close)

Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 0.6 at 2,867.92 (close)

West Texas Intermediate: UP 2.9 percent at $34.45 per barrel

Brent North Sea crude: UP 3.0 percent at $36.82

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.0970 from $1.0983 at 2050 GMT

Dollar/yen: UP at 107.76 yen from 107.55 yen

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2210 from $1.2233

Euro/pound: UP at 89.85 pence from 89.74 pence

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