Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

London — Apple’s warning on revenue rocked financial markets on Thursday, as investors shunned equities and sought safety in bonds and less risky assets amid renewed concerns about slowing global economic growth and damage from the China-US trade war.

Tech stocks led a sell-off across Asian, European and US  shares after Apple cut its revenue forecast, its first downgrade in nearly 12 years, blaming weaker iPhone sales in China. The news also jolted currency markets and German government bond yields held close to their lowest in more than two years.

“For the moment, investors have reacted by going into non-risky assets,” said Philippe Waechter, chief economist at Ostrum Asset Management, in Paris. “No one wants to take any risk because none of the uncertainties we are facing have been lifted, whether it’s Brexit, this trade war, or growth. Investors are putting their heads in the sand and waiting.”

Apple’s US and Frankfurt-listed shares tumbled almost 10%.

The alert renewed worries about corporate earnings just weeks before results season kicks off in the US and stirred worries that it signals broader malaise in the global economy, said Peter Rutter, head of global equities at Royal London Asset Management. “The equity market in the past three or four months has begun to bake in some form of economic slowdown and a reduction in corporate earnings expectations and there’s a wrestling match between waiting for that to come through,” he said.

Analysts, on average, expect S&P 500 companies to increase their earnings per share by nearly 7% this year, down from a forecast of 10% at the start of October and far below their expectations of 24% earnings per share growth for 2018, according to Refinitiv’s IBES.

The news sparked a “flash-crash” in holiday-thinned currency markets as growing concerns about the health of the global economy, particularly in China, sent investors scurrying into the safe-haven of the yen, which was poised for its biggest daily rise in 20 months.

Apple’s warning came after data earlier this week showed a deceleration in factory activity in China and the eurozone, indicating the trade dispute between the US and China is taking a toll on global manufacturing. US stocks opened lower, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average down 0.73% and the Nasdaq Composite dropping 1.22%.

In Europe, the pan European STOXX 600 was down 0.2% in late afternoon trade, with major European bourses off earlier lows as better-than-expected US jobs data helped soothe some concerns. “You get Apple data today and then you get this [solid] jobs data. I think we’ll be waiting for the evidence of some slowdown to justify some of this recent sell-off and rotation between sectors,” said Rutter.

Chip makers who supply parts to Apple were the worst hit, sending tech stocks to their lowest since February 2017.

Overnight, shares in China and Hong Kong see-sawed between gains and losses as investors braced for Beijing to roll out fresh support measures for the cooling Chinese economy.

‘Flash-crash’

Currency markets saw a wild spike in volatility in early Asian trade, with the yen moving sharply higher against the dollar, breaking key technical levels and triggering stop-loss sales of US and Australian dollars.

The dollar was last 1% weaker against the yen at ¥107.77, having earlier fallen as low as ¥104.96, its lowest level since March 2018. The Australian dollar, at one point, hit levels against the yen not seen since 2011.

The euro was up 0.3%, buying $1.1375, and the dollar index, which tracks the US currency against a basket of major rivals, was 0.3%  weaker at 96.52.

Germany’s 10-year bond yield was most recently at 0.18%, after hitting a session low of 0.148%.

US crude oil rose 1.5% to $47.25 a barrel, and Brent crude was up 2.1% at $56.07. Gold was higher as the dollar weakened, with spot gold trading up 0.3% at $1,289.4 an ounce.

Reuters