Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

London — World stocks hit a 12-day trough on Monday as fears for economic growth sent investors dashing for safe-haven assets, but the selloff lost some momentum after better-than-expected data from Germany.

The Ifo Institute's March business climate index unexpectedly rose, soothing nerves after Friday's dismal German manufacturing data, which helped spark a global selloff that hammered stock markets and pushed key benchmark bond yields below zero.

Crucially, an inversion in the US bond yield curve on Friday had stoked fears that the world's largest economy was headed for recession.

But the Ifo report lent some cheer. It helped European shares rise off early lows. Paris traded flat, London's FTSE was down 0.2%, and Frankfurt inched up 0.14% after the numbers. Europe's banking as well as industrial goods & services sectors which were down 1% at one point, recouped losses to trade flat by 950 GMT.

But the jitters were far from over.

"We had a dire end to 2018 which was then recouped so you have a very good reason to lighten up on portfolios," said Marie Owens Thomsen, chief economist at CA Indosuez in Geneva, adding that confusion over the state of play in Britain's impending departure from the EU clouded the picture more.

"Many people may have realised a major part of their expected returns for the year, so in light of recent gains it makes sense for investors to lighten up on risk."

The falls in Europe follow hefty tumbles in Asia. Japan's Nikkei hit a five-week low after diving 3.1% for its largest one-day percentage fall since late December. South Korea's Kospi index declined 1.7%, while China shares was also in the red with the blue-chip CSI 300 index down 1.4%.

MSCI's gauge of stocks across the globe slipped 0.5%. The gloomy mood was expected to spread to US markets with S&P 500 futures skidding 0.2%. However, they were down as much as 0.5% earlier in the day.

The German data also helped Germany's benchmark 10-year bond yield move back into positive territory.

Spreads between US three-month and 10-year treasury yields turned positive. US 10-year treasury yields stood at 2.7240% after yields inverted for the first time since 2007 on Friday. Historically, an inverted yield curve — where long-term rates fall below short-term — has signalled an upcoming recession.

"The bond market price action is an enormous blaring siren to anyone trying to be optimistic on stocks," JPMorgan analysts said in a note to clients.

"Growth, and bonds/yield curves, will be the only thing stocks should be focused on going forward, and it's very hard to envision any type of rally until economic confidence stabilises and bonds reverse," it added.

Politics was also in focus in the US and Britain.

US special counsel Robert Mueller concluded, after a long investigation, that nobody associated with President Donald Trump's campaign conspired with Russia during the 2016 presidential election, according to a summary issued by attorney-general William Barr on Sunday.

Political turmoil in Britain over the country's exit from the EU also remains a drag on risk assets.

Prime Minister Theresa May held crisis talks with senior colleagues and hardline Brexiteers on Sunday, trying to breathe life into her twice-defeated European divorce deal after reports her cabinet was plotting to topple her.

Rupert Murdoch's Sun newspaper said in a front-page editorial that May must announce on Monday she will stand down as soon as her Brexit deal is approved.

The pound was 0.2% lower after three straight days of wild gyrations. The currency had slipped 0.7% last week.

The yen — a perceived safe haven — traded 0.25% softer at ¥110.18 per dollar, knocked off earlier six-week highs.

In commodities, US crude fell 13 US cents to $58.91 per barrel. Brent crude futures eased 22c to $66.81.