World stocks were pinned down on Thursday by the rising death toll from the new coronavirus and deepening economic pain, with another record week of jobless claims expected in the United States.
Investors sought the safety of the US dollar which hung on to recent gains, while oil futures surged after US President Donald Trump said he expected Saudi Arabia and Russia to reach a deal soon to end their oil price war.
In Japan, the Nikkei index ended down 1.37%, taking its losses to 25% so far this year. In a meandering session, European stocks made tentative gains, with the pan-European STOXX 600 gaining 0.4%. Wall Street futures added 2% after plunging overnight.
“US jobless claims are expected to surge again and in this environment we cannot talk about a recovery in equities in the short term. The best you can hope for is stablisation in the current environment,” said Francois Savary, chief investment officer at Swiss wealth manager Prime Partners.
In Europe, oil and gas stocks gained more than 5%, with Royal Dutch Shell, Total SA and BP jumping between 3.3% and 5.0%, thanks to the rise in oil prices.
Brent crude futures rose 11.36%, or $2.81, to $27.55, while US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures increased 10.0% or $2.03, at $22.34.
Trump said he had talked recently with the leaders of both Russia and Saudi Arabia and believed the two countries would make a deal within a “few days” to lower production and thereby bring prices back up.
Shares in British Airways owner IAG added 1.5% after a person familiar with the matter said British Airways was in talks with its union about a plan to suspend around 32,000 staff so it can survive the coronavirus pandemic.
Euro zone government bond yields rose as investors cautiously moved back into riskier assets. The 10-year German government bond yield rose 3 basis points to -0.44%, rising away from the lows of -0.55% touched on Monday.
The yield on safe-haven 10-year US Treasuries — which falls when prices rise — fell as far as 0.5680%.
“There had been fears about the bond market blowing up, but for the time being there’s a return to normal correleation in the market, so we don’t see a vicious cycle where bonds bring down equities and equities brings down bonds,” said Savary.
US labour market data will likely provide the next test of market sentiment and of the pain in the world’s largest economy.
Initial claims for jobless benefits last week probably broke the week-ago record of 3.3 million, with 3.5 million expected, according to a Reuters survey of economists.
“We think last week’s print of just under 3.5 million is ripe for a dramatic upward revision,” said RBC Capital Markets’ chief US economist, Tom Porcelli.
“This week we look for another sizeable 4 million increase.”
China and South Korea have shown signs of controlling the virus, reporting falling numbers of new cases, but progress remains fragile and infections are soaring globally.
The World Health Organization said the global case count would reach 1 million and the death toll 50,000 in the next few days. It currently stands at 46,906.
US President Donald Trump, who had initially played down the outbreak, told reporters at the White House on Wednesday that he is considering a plan to halt flights to coronavirus hot zones in the United States.
“Difficult days are ahead for our nation,” Trump said.
In currency markets, the dollar gave up some of its recent gains, with oil’s gains lifting some commodity-linked currencies.
The Australian dollar gained 0.6% to $0.6110 and the Canadian dollar firmed 0.65% to C$1.4146.
The dollar index against a basket of six major currencies stood flat at 99.470 after a gain of 0.53% overnight as the US currency advanced against most of its major peers. The euro traded down 0.3% at $1.0934 as the dollar advanced.
The South African rand hit a fresh low while the Turkish lira touched a two-year low.
Spot gold fell 0.3% to $1,586.24 per ounce.