Global shares slipped on Thursday on growing signs that a trade dispute between the United States and China was taking a toll on corporate earnings, with nerves spreading from Wall Street through Asia to European markets.
MSCI world equity index, which tracks shares in 47 countries, fell 0.2 per cent to its lowest in nine days, after the start of the earnings season brought bad signs. Rail freight giant CSX Corp, cut its revenue forecast as it warned of the impact of the US-China trade war, pushing down Wall Street indexes on Wednesday.
In Europe, too, earnings were top of the agenda. Tech stocks led the slide as software firm SAP, Europe’s most valuable tech stock by market cap, slumped 10 per cent on poor results, flagging the impact of the US-China trade war.
The Euro STOXX 600 fell 0.5 per cent to its lowest in almost three weeks, later erasing its losses as traders cited a Bloomberg News report that the European Central Bank staff are studying a potential revamp of the bank’s near 2 per cent inflation goal. That could mean longer stimulus than previously thought.
With nerves already on edge over when face-to-face talks between the United States and China will resume, US president Donald Trump on Tuesday maintained pressure on Beijing with a threat to put tariffs on another $325 billion of Chinese goods.
Investors also cited a report that progress toward a US-China trade deal has stalled as the Trump administration works out how to address Beijing’s demands that it ease restrictions on Huawei Technologies.
Wall Street futures gauges were slightly down.
‘It’s still about the US and China dispute,’ Christophe Barraud, chief economist and strategist at Market Securities. ‘The trade war is creating uncertainty, weighed on capex, and clearly on trade flows.’
‘There are also problems with guidance, especially in the transportation sector. The fact is that one of the key stories of this year is global trade flows contraction,’ he said.
Adding to the concerns over corporate health, Netflix shed US subscribers for the first time in 8 years, sending shares falling over 10 per cent after the close of the market.
Compounding the trade concerns were worrying signs for the economy emerging from Japan to the United States.
Japan’s exports slumped yet again, falling 6.7 per cent in June, while manufacturers’ confidence fell to a three-year low in July on the back of the trade tensions and slowing China growth.
US housebuilding fell in June for a second consecutive month, with building permits also falling, in a possible sign of more trouble ahead for the housing market.
The earnings anxiety and macro data boosted demand for safe haven assets, with yields on benchmark 10-year and 30-year US Treasuries climbing overnight.
Euro zone government bond yields fell following the report on the ECB, which also pushed the single currency down 0.1 per cent to the day’s lows of $1.1205.
Euro zone bonds had already faced a negative mood after the poor economic data and corporate earnings had deepened worries over the global economy, boosting bets on interest rate cuts by major central banks.
Some investors are already betting on whether the US Federal Reserve will be cut by 25 basis points or 50 basis points in July.
While markets take comfort from central banks’ willingness to support growth, said Sunil Krishnan, head of multi-asset funds at Aviva Investors, there were concerns for equity markets that have rallied on the back of stimulus expectations.
The weak start to the Q2 earnings season may spill over into the outlook for the remainder of the year, threatening equity markets’ stellar rally this year.
‘We are probably in the middle of analysts downgrading Q3 company earnings expectations,’ he said.
Earlier in the day, MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan lost 0.3 per cent, with Tokyo’s benchmark Nikkei tumbling 2 per cent, its biggest one-day fall in four months.
In currencies, the dollar slipped for a second day against its rivals on the back of softer US Treasury yields, with investors focusing their attention on the Fed’s meeting next week.
Against a basket of its rivals, the dollar edged 0.1 per cent lower to 97.195.
Sterling was a shade higher at $1.275, off its lowest since April 2017 touched on Wednesday amid growing risks of Britain leaving the European Union in a no-deal Brexit.
Major British banks, such as HSBC, are already talking of the possibility of the pound breaching post-Brexit referendum lows of $1.149, with some asking whether the pound is headed for parity against both the dollar and the euro.
On the commodities front, oil rose 1 per cent after Iran said it had seized a foreign oil tanker in the Gulf.
Brent crude futures were up 58 cents at $64.24 a barrel by 1100 GMT. They fell 1.1 per cent on Wednesday.
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