Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on February 12 2020 in New York City, the US. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/AFP/SPENCER PLATT
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on February 12 2020 in New York City, the US. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/AFP/SPENCER PLATT

London/Tokyo — European shares touched record highs on Friday as investors digested whether China’s coronavirus outbreak would cause long-lasting damage to global economy.

Europe’s broad Euro Stoxx 600 clawed up 0.1% to follow Asian markets higher in choppy early trading, even as indices in Paris and London both fell 0.2%.

In both cases, corporate results weighed, with a 5% fall for AstraZeneca dragging London shares down as the drugmaker said it would take a hit from the coronavirus outbreak.

France’s Renault, meanwhile, fell 4.2% on its first loss in 10 years as it set a lower operating margin goal for 2020, a crunch year for its planned reboot alongside partner Nissan after a scandal surrounding former boss Carlos Ghosn.

The virus outbreak showed no sign of peaking, with health authorities reporting more than 5,000 new cases.

China’s National Health Commission said it had recorded 121 new deaths on the mainland on February 13, taking the accumulated total infected to 63,851 people.

Yet some investors are betting that the economic effect of the outbreak will not be long-lasting, finding succour in a spread beyond China that is not as rapid as feared.

Others have latched on to the possibility of further central bank stimulus measures in response to any slowdown. China’s central bank, for example, has already pumped liquidity into its economy.

Yet there is by no means a consensus that such a sunny take is warranted. Some investors said they were dialling down bets on equities amid the uncertainty over what economic toll the coronavirus would take.

“We have actually taken some money out of equities this week,” said Rory McPherson, head of investment strategy at Psigma Investment Management, adding that it was temporarily holding cash instead.

“Markets have been overly focused on the good, and not giving a balanced view on whether the stimulus from China isn’t effective, and if the coronavirus spreads and impacts the economy more.”

MSCI world equity index, which tracks shares in 49 countries, was flat. Wall Street futures were pointing to a slightly higher open.

Earlier, Asian shares had earlier inched higher towards their second consecutive week of gains, helped by the hope governments will make provisions to soften the effect on their economies from the coronavirus epidemic.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan ticked up 0.2% for weekly gain of 1.8%, while China’s blue-chip CSI300 shares rose 0.7%, having staged a stunning recovery to claw back 95% of their losses made after the outbreak.

“China is already easing its monetary policy and providing more liquidity while more stimulus is likely. Factories are starting to reopen albeit with some delays,” said Yukino Yamada, senior strategist at Daiwa Securities.

Euro blues

Currency traders had matters beyond the cornovairus on their minds.

The euro slumped to to another near-three-year low, with the worry lingering about slowing growth in the eurozone and rising political uncertainties in Germany.

The single currency has lost 1% so far this week and is on track for its worst two-weekly performance since mid-2018, with investors watching out for an estimate of how the economy performed in the fourth quarter, due at 10am GMT.

Eurozone GDP data due later on Friday is expected show a sluggish growth of 0.1% from the previous quarter.

The euro fell to as low as $1.0827, and last stood flat at $1.0830.

Others signalled growing demand for the US dollar.

“Investors will surely avoid Asia for the time being and will shift funds to the US, geographically the most separated from the region,” said Norihiro Fujito, chief investment strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities.

Against a basket of currencies, the dollar hit a four-month high. It has risen 1.8% so far in February.

Oil edged higher and was on track for its first weekly gain in six weeks, backed by the expectation that producers will implement deeper output cuts to offset slowing demand in China caused by the coronavirus epidemic.

Brent crude futures were up 15c at $56.49 a barrel. Brent is 3.7% higher for the week, the first increase since the week of January 3.


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