World markets steadied ahead of US jobs numbers on Friday, as a four-year high in oil prices and the biggest weekly jump in treasury yields since February left investors wondering where to go next.
The usual drop in activity ahead of the monthly non-farm payrolls couldn’t prevent Europe’s main bourses following Asia into the red - but it wasn’t the deep shade of crimson of the previous day.
Lingering worries about Italy’s finances pushed Milan down 0.9 per cent, while London’s FTSE, Frankfurt’s DAX and the CAC in Paris were off 0.6-0.8 per cent and Wall Street futures were modestly weaker.
It was the bond and currency markets, though, where the attention was really trained.
The dollar barely budged against its main sparring partners the euro and the Japanese yen after testing a 10-week high, but rising bond yields - which drive the global cost of borrowing - were causing a headache again.
Benchmark US Treasury yields were at a seven-year top and on their way to their biggest weekly yield rise since February while European yields were adding to their biggest rise in months as well.
And with talk of plenty more US interest rate hikes growing louder, it put all the more focus on the US jobs data later.
Eaton Vance portfolio manager Justin Bourgette said though there was too much hype around the payrolls figures, whichever way you approach it, the US labour market is currently super strong.
The latest Reuters poll sees 185,000 new jobs and average hourly earnings increasing 0.3 per cent in September after leaping 0.4 per cent in August.
‘Whatever the Fed’s concept of the neutral interest rate is, it must be rising,’ Bourgette said. ‘And it is going to be trial and error to some degree (on how high rates go), because you just don’t know where the choking point is.’
Tied in with the rise in borrowing costs has been the latest spike in oil prices, as energy costs tend to have an outsized impact on inflation which is what most major central banks focus on when setting interest rates.
Brent crude futures gained 0.5 per cent to $85.03 barrel, and US crude rose 0.7 per cent to $74.88 barrel. That kept both just under 4-year highs. They have also risen an staggering 15-20 per cent since mid-August.
‘Iranian exports could fall below 1 million barrels per day in November,’ US bank Jefferies said, referring to looming US sanctions on Tehran.
The investment bank said there was enough oil to meet demand, but ‘global spare capacity is dwindling to the lowest level that we can document ... meaning any further supply disruptions would be difficult for the market to manage - and could lead to spiking crude oil prices’.
The painful combination of rising oil prices, borrowing costs and a climbing dollar have also been rocking emerging markets which tend to be vulnerable to all three.
MSCI’s 24-country emerging market equity index was down 0.7 per cent and headed for its worst week since February and plenty of currencies were carrying heavy losses too.
The Indian rupee fell to new record low after the central bank kept its interest rates on hold. The rupee has been hammered by higher oil prices, and is the worst performer in Asia this year.
Indian stocks also fell for a third straight session, dragged down by energy firms, a day after the government announced a cut in fuel prices.
That cut sparked fears of the country going back towards the regulated regime where the prices of diesel and petrol were controlled by the government. Petrol prices were regulated until 2012, while diesel prices remained so until 2014.
‘In general, what’s driving emerging market weakness is a stronger US economy ... there is a lack of clarity on the effectiveness of rate hikes as a currency defense,’ said Sunil Sharma, chief investment officer with Sanctum Wealth Management.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Miscellany