Stocks struggle, oil slips as Chinese concerns linger

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Most major stock markets eased lower Tuesday as traders weighed strong earnings news against the potential impact of the Covid Delta variant on economic activity.

Oil prices slumped further meanwhile, adding to Monday's sharp losses as the reimposition of lockdowns and other restrictions in several countries including China raised demand concerns.

As trading gathered steam in New York, the Dow Jones index was off by 0.2 percent, and the dollar dipped against other major currencies ahead of key US jobs data later in the week. The JSE's All-Share Index ended the day flat, while the rand gained almost 2% to R14.35/$.

London's benchmark FTSE 100 index was essentially unchanged in afternoon deals, even though strong BP results showed that it had swung back into profit.

While corporate earnings continue to impress, trader optimism has been hit by a series of below-forecast readings from the world's biggest economies.

And a surge in Covid cases across economic powerhouse China has added to worries on trading floors.

"The rise in US cases, and (Southeast Asia's) situation, is well known, but what is spooking markets is China," said Jeffrey Halley, an analyst at OANDA.

"It's not a huge reach to extrapolate even more supply chain disruptions, especially if it proves as elusive to control for Chinese authorities as it has to officials globally."

Hong Kong and Shanghai also continue to be buffeted by uncertainty caused by China's crackdown on the tech, private education and property sectors, which has raised worries that officials will target other industries.

Gaming firms appeared to be next in the crosshairs after a state-run media commentary described online games as "spiritual opium".

"Fears over Chinese regulatory interference aren't going away, with Tencent the latest stock to slump on chatter about Beijing seeking to wield its power," added Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell.

But Indian markets hit fresh all-time highs spurred by hopes of an economic rebound in Asia's third-biggest economy.

The benchmark Nifty 50 index surpassed the 16,000-point mark for the first time while the Sensex hit a fresh record high of 53,542.

At the same time, long-running fears that inflation could spike for months to come is fanning talk that central banks will have to taper their huge stimulus programmes that have driven rallies for equities.

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