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 — A major global share index hit its lowest level in a month on Wednesday after US manufacturing activity tumbled to more than a decade low, sparking worry that the fallout from the US-China trade war is spreading to the US economy.

The dollar steadied, having earlier been knocked off its highest levels in more than two years following the data. The index that measures the greenback against a basket of peers was up 0.16%.

A slowdown in US economic growth would remove one of the few remaining bright spots in the global economy and come just as Europe is seen as close to falling into recession.

MSCI’s gauge of stocks across the globe, covering 49 markets, dipped 0.3% to its lowest since September 5, after shedding 0.83% in the previous session.

European shares opened lower, with London stocks lagging the most on fresh Brexit drama. The pan-European Stoxx 600 index was down almost 1%.

The FTSE 100 index slipped 1.5%, the largest drop across European regions and ahead of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s talks with Brussels as he prepares to announce his final Brexit offer.

The pound was down 0.6% at $1.2238.

Adding to investor anxieties, European companies looked set for their worst quarterly earnings in three years as revenue drops for the first time since early 2018, according to the latest Refinitiv data.

In Asia, MSCI’s ex-Japan Asia-Pacific shares index dropped 0.8%, with Australian shares falling 1.5% and South Korean shares shedding 1.95%. Japan’s Nikkei slid 0.5%. China markets are closed for a one-week holiday.

“Our base case is that trade tensions will remain elevated, and we expect global growth to slow in 2020 to its slowest pace since the global financial crisis,” said UBS Global Wealth Management chief investment officer Mark Haefele.

“We don’t rule out a worsening of the trade situation over the next six to 12 months.”

Hong Kong's Hang Seng index was down 0.3% after a market holiday the previous day. The index fell as much as 1.2% in early trade. On Tuesday, Hong Kong police shot a teenage protester, the first to be hit by live ammunition in almost four months of unrest in the Chinese-ruled city.

Adding to the tension in Asia, North Korea carried out at least one more projectile launch on Wednesday, a day after it announced it will hold working-level talks with the US at the weekend.

On Wall Street on Tuesday, the S&P 500 lost 1.23% to hit four-week lows. Selling was triggered after the Institute for Supply Management’s (ISM) index of factory activity, one of the most closely watched data on US manufacturing, dropped to the lowest level since June 2009.

Markets had been expecting the index to rise back above the 50.0 mark denoting growth.

“Historically, equity returns are worst when the ISM manufacturing drops from levels below the 50 threshold,” Patrik Lang, head of equity research at Julius Baer.

“Uncertainty around the US-China trade war is obviously the main reason for the weakness, with companies exposed to global trade increasingly putting off investment decisions.”

The data came after eurozone manufacturing data showed the sharpest contraction in almost seven years.

The poor data lifted the Fed funds rate futures price sharply, with the November contract now pricing in about an 80% chance the US Federal Reserve will cut interest rates on October 30, compared to just more than 50% before the data.

US President Donald Trump once again lashed out at the Federal Reserve on Tuesday, saying the central bank has kept interest rates “too high” and that a strong dollar is hurting US factories.

It is another question, however, whether the Fed will cut interest rates as hastily as Trump, and financial markets, want.

Just on Tuesday, Chicago Fed president Charles Evans said the Fed can keep rates steady for now.

Elsewhere in currencies, the yen rose to ¥107.71 to the dollar, from Tuesday’s low of ¥108.47.

The euro fell 0.15% to $1.0915.

The Australian dollar fetched $0.6693, having hit a 10-and-a-half-year low of $0.6672 the previous day after the Reserve Bank of Australia cut interest rates and expressed concern about job growth.

Eurozone bond yields inched up after another speech from outgoing European Central Bank (ECB) chief Mario Draghi calling for fiscal stimulus to boost the region's sluggish economy.

Gold rose to $1,479.13/oz from a two-month low of $1,459.50 hit on Tuesday on the back of a robust dollar.

The weak US data pushed oil prices to near one-month lows, though a surprise drop in US crude inventories helped them to rebound.

Brent crude futures rose 0.2% to $59.01 a barrel, after hitting a four-week low of $58.41 on Tuesday, while US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude gained 0.69% to $53.99 a barrel after hitting a one-month low of $53.05.