Traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Picture: REUTERS
Traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Picture: REUTERS

London — Global stocks struggled for momentum on Wednesday as improving economic data was offset by concern that surging coronavirus cases in the US could derail the world’s recovery before it properly begins.

Germany’s manufacturing sector contracted at a slower pace in June, while French factory activity rebounded into growth, data showed.

German retail sales rose sharply in May, reflecting a rebound in private consumption, while a recovery in China’s factory activity offered further signs that the world’s second largest economy may have passed the worst of the devastation caused by the pandemic.

Germany’s jobless rate rose by 69,000 in June, far less than expected. Economic institute Ifo said Europe’s largest economy will gradually recover after the slump caused by the pandemic and will likely return to last year’s level at the end of 2021.

Coronavirus cases surged, with the US recording 47,000 infections on Tuesday, its biggest single-day spike since the pandemic began.

MSCI’s world shares index was 0.1% higher after rising 18% for its biggest three-month gain since 2009 in the second quarter, but it still closed the first half about 8% lower than the start of the year.

After their best quarter since March 2015, European stocks opened firmer, with the broader Euro Stoxx 600 gaining 0.3%.

“We are at the beginning of the quarter but it doesn’t look very different from where we left the last one,” said François Savary, chief investment officer at Swiss wealth manager Prime Partners, predicting “a further consolidation over the [European] summer”.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares excluding Japan rose 0.3%, led by gains in China. E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 were down 0.2%. It followed a strong finish to the quarter on Wall Street but also a loss of momentum in recent weeks as US infection rates have surged, with some states re-imposing restrictions on business and personal activity.

The S&P 500 index rose 1.5% for an almost 20% gain over the past three months, fueled by unprecedented central bank stimulus and hopes for a swift pandemic recovery, but it rose only 1.8% in June.

Coronavirus cases more than doubled in 14 US states last month, a Reuters analysis showed, and fears are growing that the caseload could prompt fresh lockdowns.

“The rise in Covid-19 infections is now triggering a reversal on the reopening strategy,” said Rodrigo Catril, senior forex strategist at National Australia Bank in Sydney. “It remains to be seen if the US economy will continue to surprise over the coming month.”

The US government bond market remains in a cautious mood. Yields on benchmark 10-year government debt rose overnight to 0.6774%, but finished the quarter steady.

In Europe, Germany’s 10-year yield rose to a one-week high, rising two basis points on the day to -0.44, helped by better-than-expected German retail sales.

Unwelcome developments

China’s introduction of sweeping new laws to crack down on dissent in Hong Kong also has investors eying geopolitical tensions with trepidation.

The laws have prompted fresh protests in the city and Washington has begun dismantling Hong Kong’s special status under US law.

“It’s one of a number of geopolitical factors that is a negative for some asset classes now,” said Imre Speizer, a forex strategist at Westpac in Auckland.

Currency markets were in a holding pattern before the next slew of data due to provide a snapshot of the US recovery. The dollar rose overnight but edged back down in early London trading, before US manufacturing purchasing managers’ index (PMI) and unemployment data. The euro was broadly flat on the day, at $1.12275.

US manufacturing activity data on Wednesday is forecast to show a recovery from an 11-year low in April while the non-farm payrolls report on Thursday is expected to show the economy added 3-million jobs in June.

Gold hovered near an eight-year high at $1787.86 an ounce.

Brent crude rose 2.5% to $42.32 a barrel, while US crude was up 2.7% at $40.31 a barrel after an industry report showed crude stockpiles in the US staged a bigger drop than expected.

Reuters