Global stock markets fall on Fed warning

Markets took a knock on coronavirus fears. (Photo: iStock)
Markets took a knock on coronavirus fears. (Photo: iStock)

Europe's stock markets sank Thursday, taking their cue from earlier losses in Asia after the head of the US Federal Reserve warned about the "uncertain" outlook for the virus-hit US economy.

The European Central Bank announced it was offering additional temporary relief to banks to help them cope with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, easing requirements on the capital they are required to hold.

In late morning deals, London's benchmark FTSE 100 index of major blue-chip companies shed 0.9% as investors awaited the Bank of England's latest monetary policy decision at 13:00, when it is expected to maintain its key interest rate at 0.1%.

Heading into the half-way stage in the eurozone, Frankfurt's DAX 30 shares index dipped 0.6% and the Paris CAC 40 lost 0.7%.

The dollar steadied after losing ground following the Fed's comments, while oil prices retreated as traders awaited a video conference meeting of the expanded OPEC+ grouping of crude producing nations.

"A lingering sense of disappointment hangs over global markets in the wake of the Fed meeting," said IG analyst Chris Beauchamp.

"Investors had evidently hoped for something much more concrete than the relatively vague policy outlook provided by Powell and Co, with equities struggling... and the dollar finding some support."

Asian equities had mostly dropped following a broadly negative lead from Wall Street on Wednesday.

Fed chief Jerome Powell told reporters that while the recovery was looking better than anticipated, "overall activity remains well below its level before the pandemic and the path ahead remains highly uncertain", and stressed the need for more stimulus.

While the central bank indicated interest rates were unlikely to begin rising for another three years, allowing businesses to borrow at ultra-low levels, Powell's call for more fiscal help came as US lawmakers seem unable to find common ground on a new package.

"It will take a while to get back to the levels of economic activity and employment that prevailed at the beginning of this year," Powell said. "My sense is that more fiscal support is likely to be needed."

Talks on a new rescue bill have stalled for weeks, with both sides digging in their heels and blaming each other, though Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows each made encouraging statements about the potential to break the impasse.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday tweeted that Republicans - who last week put forward a $500-billion proposal - should "go for the much higher numbers", suggesting he is keen to reach an agreement with Democrats, who are aiming for $2 trillion.

Oil prices dropped, a day after chalking up big gains of more than four percent.

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