World markets fall on coronavirus spread, moving to safe havens
All the major currencies are down too, with only the dollar still near 33-month highs
London/Sydney — Shares across the world fell on Friday and were set for their worst week in four as investors dumped riskier assets for the safety of bonds and gold, with coronavirus cases in China and elsewhere spreading.
China reported more cases of the disease on Friday, with finance leaders from the G20 major economies meeting in Saudi Arabia over the weekend set to discuss risks to the global economy stemming from the outbreak.
Though investors have been sanguine about the long term economic risks from the virus, a steady drip of new cases in countries beyond China has kept worries gnawing away, with South Korea recording more than 50 new cases on Friday.
Europe’s broad Euro Stoxx 600 fell 0.3%, with indices in London and Paris down 0.5% and 0.3%, respectively.
“It’s risk-off — bonds are being bought again and hedges are being put into play at the moment,” said Olivier Marciot, investment manager at Unigestion.
Not helping the nerves were manufacturing surveys underscoring the grim state of the Japanese economy. Japan’s purchasing managers’ index dropped to 47.6 in February, from 48.8, marking the steepest contraction in seven years.
European surveys painted a somewhat brighter picture, with French business activity growing faster than expected in February on a rebound in the service sector. Germany’s private sector expansion also held steady.
British numbers were due out at 9.30am GMT.
Gold and US bonds were among the main beneficiaries as funds sought safety. Yields on 30-year US treasuries fell below the psychologically important 2% level to the lowest since September 2019. Yields on 10-year notes were down nine basis points for the week at 1.498%, close to lows last seen in September.
Ten-year German government bond yields fell to a four-month low, with the entire yield curve on the cusp of turning negative. The entire Dutch yield also returned to negative territory.
Gold was last up 0.8% at $1,631.16, having added 3.1% for the week so far to seven-year highs.
“US and EU equity markets have been sold across the board with core global yields benefiting from safe-haven flows,” said Rodrigo Catril, a senior forex strategist at NAB.
Underscoring the economic effect from the coronavirus, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimated losses for Asian airlines alone could amount to almost $28bn this year, with most of that in China.
Corporate earnings are increasingly under threat as US manufacturers, like many others, scramble for alternative sources as China’s supply chains seize up.
The MSCI world equity index, which tracks shares in 49 countries, fell 0.2%, while MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares excluding Japan slipped 1%. E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 slipped 0.3%.
The flows into bonds have been a boon to the dollar, boosting it to multi-month peaks against a raft of competitors this week.
The most spectacular gains came on the yen, as a run of dire domestic data stirred talk of recession there and ended months of stalemate in the market. Still, the yen rallied on Friday, gaining 0.5% against the dollar in European trading to ¥111.51 though the greenback was still set for its best week since July 2018 with a rise of 1.7%.
“It was too soon to write off the yen as a safe haven,” said Mayank Mishra, a forex strategist at Standard Chartered in Singapore. “I think the yen is reasserting its status as a safe haven.”
The dollar was last down 0.2% at 99.649 against a basket of currencies, but still near 33-month highs touched a day earlier.
Another casualty of its close trade ties with China was the Australian dollar, which plumbed 11-years lows.
The euro fared little better at $1.0811, having reached depths not seen since April 2017.
Against a basket of currencies, the dollar hit a three-year top at 99.910 having climbed 0.5% for the week so far.
Oil prices fell about 1%, with Brent crude futures easing 78c to $58.54.
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