Global markets on track for worst week since 2020

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Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty
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World stocks headed for their worst week since markets' pandemic meltdown in March 2020 as leading central banks doubled down on tighter policy in an effort to tame inflation, setting investors on edge about future economic growth.

The biggest US rate rise since 1994, the first such Swiss move in 15 years, a fifth rise in British rates since December and a move by the European Central Bank to bolster the indebted south all took turns in roiling markets.

The Bank of Japan was the only outlier in a week where money prices rose around the world, sticking with its strategy of pinning 10-year yields near zero on Friday.

After a week of punchy moves across asset classes, world stocks were down 0.2% on Friday to take weekly losses to 5.8% and leave the index on course for the steepest weekly percentage drop in more than two years.

The JSE's All-Share index fell almost 2% by midday on Friday, which brings its losses to 6% so far this week.

Sasol lost almost 6% on Friday, after oil price declines earlier this week. 

Overnight in Asia, the yen was up 1.8% to 134.55 per dollar in volatile trade, while MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell to a five-week low, dragged by selling in Australia. Japan's Nikkei fell 1.8% and headed for a weekly drop of almost 7%.

S&P 500 futures were up 0.5% and Nasdaq 100 futures rose 1% but they are well underwater on the week.

“The more aggressive line by central banks adds to headwinds for both economic growth and equities," said Mark Haefele, Chief Investment Officer at UBS Global Wealth Management. "The risks of a recession are rising, while achieving a soft landing for the US economy appears increasingly challenging.”

Data from analysts at Bank of America showed more than 88% of the stock indexes it tracks are trading below their 50-day and 200-day moving average, leading markets "painfully oversold".

Bonds and currencies were jittery after a rollercoaster week.

The rand was 1% lower at R15.92/$ by Friday midday.

US labour and housing data came in soft on Thursday, on the heels of disappointing retail sales figures, with the worries knocking the dollar and helping Treasuries.

Benchmark U.S. 10-year Treasury yields fell nearly 10 basis points overnight but wobbled higher to 3.2502% during early European trade. Yields rise when prices fall.

Southern European bond yields dropped sharply on Friday, though, after reports of more detail from ECB President Christine Lagarde over its plans to develop a tool to support yields.

In recent sessions, the dollar pulled back from a 20-year high, but it has not fallen far and was last up 0.3%, on course to end the week steady against a basket of currencies.

Sterling rose 1.4% on Thursday after a 25 basis points rate rise and held gains into Friday as it heads for a steady week. Two-year gilts were last at 2.066%.

"If a central bank does not move aggressively, yields and risk price in more in the way of rate hikes down the road," said NatWest Markets' strategist John Briggs.

"Markets may just be continuously adjusting to an outlook for higher global policy rates ... as global central bank policy momentum is all one way."

Growth fears took oil on a brief trip lower before prices steadied. Brent crude futures were last at $120.55 a barrel. Gold was down 0.5% at $1,848 an ounce and bitcoin climbed 3.5% to $21,099.

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