The New York Stock Exchange on May 26 2020 at Wall Street in New York City, the US. Picture: AFP/JOHANNES EISELE
The New York Stock Exchange on May 26 2020 at Wall Street in New York City, the US. Picture: AFP/JOHANNES EISELE

London/Tokyo — Unrest in Hong Kong over Beijing’s proposed national security laws weighed on global shares and oil prices on Wednesday, offsetting optimism about the reopening of the world economy.

Riot police fired pepper pellets on protesters in Hong Kong’s main business district, rekindling concern about the protests seen in 2019 that hit the territory’s economy.

MSCI’s ex-Japan Asia-Pacific index fell 0.4%, as Hong Kong and mainland China shares extended declines. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng fell 1.0% and mainland shares were down 0.8%, amid the fear the protests would worsen tension between the US and China.

MSCI’s index of the world’s 49 stock markets was flat but still close to two-and-a-half-month highs reached on the hope of economic recovery in the developed world as countries ease social restrictions.

Oil prices fell amid US-China tension and the concern over how quickly fuel demand will recover as lockdowns ease. Brent crude futures dropped 1.5%, to $35.62. US West Texas Intermediate
(WTI) crude futures were down 1.6%, at $33.79 a barrel.

Still, European shares remained buoyed by the hope for a post- Covid-19 recovery. The Stoxx 600 added 0.4% to reach its highest level since March 10. Britain’s FTSE gained 1% and the domestically focused FTSE 250 hit an 11-week high as thousands of retailers prepared to reopen on June 1 from a months-long shutdown.

The European commission is set to introduce a plan to help the EU economy recover from its coronavirus slump with a mix of grants, loans and guarantees exceeding €1-trillion.

“You have two elements going in the right direction. You have the end of lockdown going quite well and PMI [purchasing managers index] data showing the ability of economies to recover in the second half of the year is still there,” said Francois Savary, chief investment officer at Swiss wealth manager Prime Partners.

“A lot of good news has been integrated in markets already, but I wouldn’t chase them higher as there’s still some complacency and there will be a consolidation.”

E-mini futures for the S&P 500 rose 0.5% to near their two-and-a-half-month high touched the previous day. The index had cleared 3,000 points in Wall Street overnight before pulling back, as some traders returned to the New York Stock Exchange floor for the first time in two months.

But China remained in focus after US President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that he was preparing to take action against China this week over its effort to impose national security laws on Hong Kong.

Worsening relations between the world’s two biggest economies could further hobble global business activity, which is already under pressure from the coronavirus pandemic.

The dollar, measured against a basket of currencies, rose 0.1% to 99.146.

The Chinese yuan weakened to the lowest levels since early September in both onshore and offshore trade. The onshore renminbi slipped 0.3% to as low as 7.1595 to the dollar; the offshore currency fell 0.4% to 7.1760 to the dollar.

The euro dropped 0.2% to $1.0961, as investors waited for the European commission to release details of its financial rescue fund.

The German 10-year government bond yield fell after reaching a one-month high on Tuesday. It was last down two basis points at -0.442%.

Italy’s 10-year government bond yield barely changed, last at 1.552%.

US treasury yields rose, with ten-year yields at 0.687%, up about four basis points from Tuesday.

Gold prices dropped to a two-week low, before paring some losses to trade down 0.1% to $1,79.00/oz.

Reuters