World stocks on course for best month despite virus surge
Vaccines heading into the home stretch is raising optimism with equity markets ready for record highs and bitcoin up 140% for the year
London — World stocks remained on course for their best month ever on Friday as recent vaccine progress, Joe Biden’s US presidential election win, hopes for further stimulus, a commodity surge and a weak dollar all lifted spirits.
European markets had a touch of caution ahead of a barrage of economic data and as questions emerged over trial data on AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine, but that wasn’t going to derail a November to remember.
Germany’s, France’s, Italy’s and Spain’s main bourses all squeezed out gains and government bond yields stayed lows after the European Central Bank (ECB) reinforced expectations of further stimulus next month.
London’s FTSE was fractionally lower with some last-minute Brexit nerves, but with Wall Street pointing to a post-Thanksgiving rise, MSCI’s main world index was readying for another all-time high.
“Risk sentiment is in reasonable nick because we’ve got vaccines and easy money,” said Société Générale strategist Kit Juckes. “That is the underpinning of optimism.”
It hadn’t been all good news overnight. Australian shares ended down 0.5% and Treasury Wine Estates was whacked 11.25% as China slapped new tariffs on Australian wine, the latest move in the countries’ long-running trade spat.
But shares in China still rose 0.1% after data there showed industrial profits surged at the fastest pace since early 2017. South Korean stocks and Japan’s Nikkei both rose 0.3% too, albeit in choppy trade.
British drugmaker AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine was touted as a “vaccine for the world” due to its inexpensive cost, but its efficacy is now facing more intense scrutiny, which experts say could delay its approval.
Several scientists have raised doubts about the robustness of results showing the shot was 90% effective in a sub-group of trial participants who, by error initially, received a half dose followed by a full dose.
“With global [coronavirus] case numbers having now topped 60-million ... there is certainly some rough terrain ahead for the global recovery, and that can create economic scarring,” analysts at ANZ Bank wrote in a memo.
Virus vs vaccine
US hospitalisations for Covid-19 are at a record and experts warn that Thanksgiving gatherings could lead to further infections and deaths.
More than 20-million people across England will be forced to live under the toughest restrictions even after a national lockdown ends on December 2. Partial lockdowns in some European countries have also raised concern about economic growth.
ECB’s chief economist highlighted these concerns, saying there were “some worrying signals” in financing conditions in Europe for small and medium enterprises (SMEs), which pushed European bond yields lower.
German 10-year bund yields traded near two-week lows on Friday, while Portugal’s 10-year government bond yields touched zero for the first time.
The euro, which last bought $1.1924, showed little reaction because currency traders have largely priced in expectations for additional ECB easing in December.
The dollar, which has fallen more than 2.2% so far this month as global sentiment has surged, lessening demand for the safe-haven currency, was near its lowest in nearly three months.
“Surely euro-dollar can’t break through $1.20 without good news on the [Brexit] trade deal,” Société Générale’s Juckes added.
The yield on benchmark 10-year US treasury notes fell to 0.8586% as some investors sought the safety of holding government debt.
In commodity markets, copper, another key gauge of global economic sentiment due to its use in infrastructure, hit a near 7.5-month high. Oil, though up nearly 30% this month, dipped overnight on oversupply concerns, but Brent recovered in London to rise to $48 per barrel.
Bitcoin, the world’s biggest cryptocurrency, edged up to $17,256 on Thursday after tumbling 8.4% in the previous session, having failed to take out its record high of $19,666. The cryptocurrency showed little reaction to a report in the Financial Times that Facebook will launch its own libra digital currency in limited format next year.
Bitcoin has rallied about 140% this year, fueled by demand for riskier assets.
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