May 6, 2020

US stocks fall as investors weigh push towards reopening

US stocks dipped into the red on Wednesday as investors weighed the weakness of oil prices against the gradual reopening of the world’s big economies following weeks of lockdown.

The S&P 500 fell 0.7 per cent, as shares across the utility and energy sectors dragged down the benchmark index. Demand for technology stocks was stronger and the Nasdaq Composite was up 0.5 per cent, leaving it roughly 1 per cent shy of a return to positive territory for the year to date.

In Europe, the regional Stoxx Europe 600 benchmark closed down 0.4 per cent, while in London the FTSE 100 rose less than 0.1 per cent. Frankfurt’s Xetra Dax slipped 1.2 per cent, following data showing a record decline in German factory orders in March.

Spain, Italy and India have tentatively eased economic and social restrictions and let some businesses resume operations this week, while more US states have begun to lift lockdowns.

“We can’t keep our country closed down for years. We have to do something,” US President Donald Trump told reporters at the White House on Wednesday. “We have to get our country open again.”

Data from payroll processor ADP offered another glimpse at the economic toll the pandemic is inflicting on the US economy. The data showed the private sector lost 20.2m jobs in April as businesses were forced to close in response to the health crisis.

“The world is inside a dark tunnel, surrounded by big unknowns, and financial markets are facing a toxic mix of unpredictability, anxiety and uncertainty that is fuelling volatility. Yet faint glimmers of light are discernible,” said Robert Bergqvist, chief economist at Nordic bank SEB.

Oil prices, which had been buoyed this week by optimism that production cuts and recovering demand could ease the supply glut, retreated again on Wednesday afternoon.

Brent crude, the international benchmark, which climbed above $30 on Tuesday for the first time in six weeks, settled down 4 per cent at $29.72 on Wednesday, snapping a six-day run of gains. West Texas Intermediate, the US marker, was down 2.3 per cent at $23.99 a barrel, having rallied 20 per cent in the previous session.

In government bonds, US 10-year Treasury yields rose 0.05 percentage points to 0.71 per cent. The Treasury department on Wednesday laid out plans to boost the proportion of borrowing through longer-term debt to help finance $3tn-plus in economic stimulus.

The dollar index, which measures the greenback against global peers, rose 0.4 per cent.

In Asia-Pacific markets, China’s CSI 300 index of Shanghai- and Shenzhen-listed stocks closed up 0.6 per cent as mainland markets reopened after a five-day holiday. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 shed 0.4 per cent, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng benchmark rose 1.3 per cent. Markets in Japan were closed for a public holiday.

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