Equity markets pallid as coronavirus dogs sentiment

Financial line chart showing fallings because of coronavirus COVID-19.
Financial line chart showing fallings because of coronavirus COVID-19.
Andriy Onufriyenko

Global markets had a pallid hue Friday with investors anxious over the reimposition of coronavirus restrictions, the stuttering global economic recovery, and US lawmakers' failure to agree on new stimulus measures.

In Europe, London, Frankfurt and Paris stocks were just into the red two hours from the close after a lacklustre performance in Asia while the Dow was also just the wrong side of the line minutes after the opening bell.

World oil prices slipped back slightly having risen after Saudi Arabia pressed OPEC and its allies to comply fully with production cuts to help stem this year's virus-driven losses.

Investors are on tenterhooks because the Covid-19 pandemic shows no sign of easing, as a swathe of fresh spikes around the world prompt the reimposition of fresh containment measures including lockdowns.

Britain's government warned it could re-impose a national lockdown across England to combat rising infections, noting hospitalisation rates are doubling every eight days.

France has been seeing virus deaths trend upwards and hospital admissions rise, meanwhile, while Spain's capital Madrid demanded government action as the virus threatened to overwhelm the city.

"The threat of a second round of Covid-19 restrictions ... has dented confidence, with the travel sector in particular feeling the heat as we head into the weekend," said Joshua Mahony, senior market analyst at online trading firm IG.

Fears of second lockdown

Traders are now growing increasingly worried about how long it will take to get the world economy back on track, amid reports England could impose a two-week blanket lockdown in October.

In London, virus concerns overshadowed upbeat official data showing that British retail sales continued their recovery in August.

The Bank of England had indicated Thursday that it was preparing the ground for a possible policy of negative interest rates to kickstart the battered UK economy.

Trillions of dollars in government and central bank cash have provided much-needed support to economies - particularly equity markets - and none more so than in the United States.

With the first massive US rescue package having run its course and Federal Reserve monetary policies such as record-low interest rates having limited effect, pressure is growing on Congress to offer more help, with the head of the central bank leading the calls.

But there is little hope that Republicans and Democrats are anywhere close to reaching a compromise after weeks of bickering.

With nearly 30 million Americans receiving government help, observers said there was growing concern about the impact on the crucial consumer sector that drives the world's top economy.

While the Fed essentially said Wednesday that interest rates would remain low for at least three years, analysts said that the pledge had disappointed those hoping for more stimulus.

US-China tensions meanwhile were once again in focus as Washington ordered a ban on downloads of popular Chinese-owned video app TikTok and use of the messaging and payment platform WeChat, saying they threaten national security.

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