Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in New York, the US. Picture: REUTERS/BRENDAN MCDERMID
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in New York, the US. Picture: REUTERS/BRENDAN MCDERMID

London — Losses on global stocks snowballed on Monday, with European markets following Asian peers lower as fresh signs emerged of slowing growth worldwide and fears grew that simmering US-China tension would torpedo chances of a trade deal.

Wall Street was set to open lower, futures indicated, after New York-listed shares posted their biggest weekly decline since March.

“Another day, another reason to sell risk. Equity markets remain in a world of pain with everyone in search of a very elusive silver lining,” said Stephen Innes at brokerage Oanda.

MSCI’s all-country index has spent four weeks in the red, despite intermittent rallies fuelled by the hope of trade war detente. The pessimism has been exacerbated by data showing the world’s largest economies — the US, China, Japan and Germany — are all headed for slower growth.

That pushed the index 0.5% lower, while a pan-European index fell almost 1% by 9.30am GMT and US equity futures were down 0.5%, suggesting more pressure on Wall Street later in the session.

Last week’s arrest of the CFO of Chinese smartphone maker Huawei for extradition to the US was seen putting up another hurdle to the resolution of a trade war between the world’s two biggest economies.

US trade representative Robert Lighthizer said on Sunday there was a “hard deadline” to the 90-day trade ceasefire and without a successful end to talks by March 1, Washington would impose new tariffs on Chinese goods.

“The trade theme will preoccupy the markets through the 90-day truce period between the US and China, waiting for any signs of concession between the parties,” said Soichiro Monji, senior economist at Daiwa SB Investments in Tokyo.

Economic data has disappointed, too, underscoring the effect of the trade wars on the world economy.

Following weak trade and inflation data on the weekend, China posted far weaker-than-expected November exports and imports, reinforcing the expectation that Beijing will roll out more stimulus to prevent the economy cooling too fast.

However, the yuan sagged to a one-week low after the weak data.

“[The data] would suggest Chinese woes go well beyond US tariffs, given that China trade surplus to the US was at a record level. One can only imagine the impact on China terms of trade if the US follows through with a 25% tariff,” Innes of Oanda said.

Japan posted the worst contraction in more than four years in the third quarter as uncertainty over global demand and trade saw companies slashing capital spending.

MSCI’s index of Asian equities outside Japan slid 1.5% to an almost three-week low, Shanghai shares retreated 0.6% and Japan’s Nikkei shed 2.1%. Emerging-market stocks lost 1.3%.

Asia’s data came after investors were spooked last week by below-forecast industrial output numbers in Germany and US jobs data showing employers hired fewer workers than expected in November.

The slowdown signs also have pummelled oil prices, which have slumped about 30% since early October. Brent futures rose 0.2% to $61.90 a barrel after producer cartel Opec and some non-affiliated producers announced a supply cut.

Data and dollar, parliament and protests

The US jobs data weakened the dollar by convincing many that US growth has peaked and the Federal Reserve will pause its rate tightening sooner than previously thought. Last week, the dollar posted its worst performance since August against a basket of currencies.

The dollar was a touch firmer on Monday but stayed near two-week lows. The euro rose 0.3% at $1.1418.

European investors were keeping their eyes on events in Britain and France.

Sterling inched lower, heading back towards 17-month lows hit last week versus the dollar, as British Prime Minister Theresa May’s EU divorce deal looks set to be rejected by parliament in a Tuesday vote.

While that raises the fear of a chaotic exit in March, those hoping for a no-Brexit outcome were encouraged by a ruling from the EU’s top court that Britain can revoke its decision to leave the bloc without the consent of other EU members.

France, meanwhile, suffered a fourth weekend of anti-government riots, which the finance minister said could curb economic growth by 0.1 percentage point.

French hotel, transport and retail stocks fell. The yield premium investors demand to hold French bonds over German peers rose to the highest since May.

President Emmanuel Macron, already forced to row back on fuel tax increases, will make a televised address at 7pm GMT.

“Concern about a bit of political and fiscal capitulation is rarely good for a bond market,” said Chris Bailey, European strategist at Raymond James.