The New York Stock Exchange. Picture: REUTERS/BRENDAN MCDERMID
The New York Stock Exchange. Picture: REUTERS/BRENDAN MCDERMID

London — Global stocks gained for a third straight day on Wednesday, bolstered by investors’ growing hopes that the US Federal Reserve might cut interest rates this year to boost a slowing global economy, while the dollar languished near seven-week lows.

A flare-up in trade tensions between the US and China, which rubbished investors’ assumption a deal was on the cards, has hit world stocks and triggered fears of an impending recession.

But recent comments from policy makers have helped stem the tide as top Fed officials this week began warning that the trade war may force them to respond, prompting investors to price possible interest rate cuts.

Interest rate futures show the US central bank will start cutting rates as soon as July, with as many as three rate cuts priced by year-end. Fed chair Jerome Powell did not question the market rethink of the US interest rate trajectory on Tuesday.

He dropped his standard reference to the Fed being “patient” in approaching any rate decision and said the central bank was watching fallout from the trade war and would react “as appropriate.”

His comments come a day after St Louis Federal Reserve president James Bullard said in a speech that a rate cut may be needed “soon”. Stock markets responded positively to Powell’s comments, with US stocks registering their biggest one-day gains in five months.

The optimism rolled over into markets on Wednesday, with the MSCI all-country world index up 0.4% after the start of European trading, adding further to a 1.4% gain on Tuesday.

“While the markets are giddy on central bank support, the effects could be short-lived,” said Jasper Lawler, head of research at London Capital Group.

“Let’s not forget the other half of the equation is the escalating trade war on multiple fronts. Today the markets are happy to focus on Fed support, but with the US commerce department promising retaliation in the event of China’s rare-earth’s threat, this trade war looks set to get worse before it gets better.”

China is willing to meet reasonable demand for rare-earths from other countries, but it would be unacceptable that countries using Chinese rare-earths to manufacture products would turn around and suppress China, its commerce ministry said last week. China’s dominance as a supplier of rare-earths could be a vital bargaining chip in the trade war with the US.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has cut its 2019 economic growth forecast for China to 6.2% on heightened uncertainty around trade frictions, saying that more monetary policy easing would be warranted if the China-US trade war escalates.

European markets opened flat to marginally higher, but most bourses, barring Britain’s FTSE 100, registered gains of nearly 0.5% by 8.07am GMT. The pan-European Stoxx 600 index was up 0.5%.

In bonds, Germany’s 10-year bond yield reached a record low and Italian debt held on to this week’s gains as investors ramped up their bets on a generous loan package for banks in the eurozone as well as a US rate cut.

Italy’s 10-year government bond yield is down 14 basis points this week so far at 2.52%, even though the EU may start proceedings this week to fine Italy for breaching debt limits.

In currencies, the Fed comments weakened the dollar for a fifth consecutive day, lifting the euro and pushing investors into safe-haven assets including the yen. The dollar struggled near a seven-week low.

“Given the extent of the dovish repricing of the Fed outlook and the collapse in US treasury yields in recent weeks, the dollar losses appear fairly muted in this context,” said Chris Turner, head of forex strategy at ING in London.

In commodity markets, oil prices resumed their slide, dragged down by a surprise gain in US inventories and comments from the head of Russian state oil producer Rosneft questioning the point of a deal with oil cartel Opec to withhold supplies.

In European trade, US crude retreated 0.85% to $53.03 a barrel and Brent crude futures dropped 0.6% to $61.58 per barrel.