Picture: 123RF/BLUE BAY
Picture: 123RF/BLUE BAY

London — Stocks fell and oil prices slid more than 3% on Monday as surging OmicronCovid-19 cases triggered tighter curbs in Europe and US growth prospects dimmed after a $1.75-trillion domestic investment bill suffered a potentially fatal blow.

The spread of the Omicron variant saw the Netherlands go into lockdown on Sunday and put pressure on others to follow, though the US seemed set to remain open.

S&P and Nasdaq futures fell 1.3%, pointing to a lower Wall Street open, after US Senator Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat who is key to President Joe Biden’s hopes of passing the investment bill, said on Sunday he would not support the package.

“Omicron ... remains one of the biggest issues for markets right now and has significantly clouded the outlook moving into year-end,” Deutsche Bank analysts said in a note, adding Manchin’s stance “marks a significant blow for President Biden’s economic agenda”.

Goldman Sachs cut its US real GDP forecast for the first quarter of 2022 to 2% from 3% previously, and marginally reduced forecasts for the second and third quarters.

European and UK stocks hit two-week lows, dropping 1.9% and 1.8% respectively.

MSCI’s index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell 1.8% to its lowest in a year and the world stocks index hit its lowest in nearly two weeks.

Emerging market stocks also hit their lowest in a year.

Beijing lightened the mood a little by cutting one-year loan rates for the first time in 20 months, though some had hoped for an easing in five-year rates as well.

The timing of the cut ahead of the January 1 interest rate resetting date for corporate loans was positive for corporate borrowers, JPMorgan analysts said.

Chinese blue chips still fell 1.5%, while Japan’s Nikkei dropped 2.1%.

Oil prices swung lower amid concerns the spread of the Omicron variant would crimp demand for fuel and signs of improving supply.

Brent fell 3.2% to $71.16 a barrel, while US crude lost 3.6% to $68.30 per barrel.

While coronavirus restrictions cloud the outlook for economic growth, they also risk keeping inflation elevated, prompting central banks to consider raising rates.

It was notable that Federal Reserve officials were openly talking of hiking rates as soon as March and of starting to run down the central bank's balance sheet in mid-2022.

That is earlier than implied by futures, which had been well ahead of Fed intentions until now. The market has only priced in a 40% chance of a hike in March, with June still the favoured month for lift off.

The signals from the Fed are a major reason long-dated Treasury yields fell last week as the short-end rose. That left the two-10 year curve near its flattest since late 2020, reflecting the risk that tighter policy will lead to recession.

Yields on US 10-year notes were down at 1.37%, well below their 2021 top of 1.776%.

Ten-year German government bond yields fell to their lowest in nearly two weeks and were trading at -0.394%.

The Fed’s hints of faster tightening, combined with safe-haven flows, underpinned the US dollar index near its best for the year at 96.555, after a 0.7% jump on Friday.

The euro rose 0.22% to $1.1265, having shed 0.8% on Friday to threaten its low for the year. The dollar was at 113.45 against the yen, down 0.2%.

Sterling fell 0.25% to $1.321 as Omicron worries erased all the gains made after the Bank of England’s surprise rate rise last week.

The Turkish lira hit a record low and was trading at 17.49 to the dollar on concerns over President Tayyip Erdogan’s low interest rates economic policy and soaring inflation.

Gold gained 0.16% to $1,801 an ounce, having broken a five-week losing streak last week as equities slipped.

Reuters

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