Global markets languish at two-week lows as pandemic weighs on sentiment

Chinese tech stocks slump amid concerns they will be delisted from US exchanges

In this photo provided by the New York Stock Exchange, trader Mark Muller, right, and specialist Peter Mazza work on the trading floor, Wednesday, March 24, 2021. Stocks were moving mostly higher on Wednesday, helped by a recovery of bank and industrial stocks. Bond yields were steady after rising earlier this week. (Nicole Pereira/New York Stock Exchange via AP)
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Global equities languished close to two-week lows on Thursday while the dollar traded near a four-month high against the euro, as investors worried that Europe's Covid-19 response was falling behind that in the United States.

European markets were under pressure, with the STOXX index of 600 European shares down 0.8 per cent and Britain's FTSE index down 1.1 per cent. The mood was not helped by data showing the biggest rise since January 9 in new confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany. The number of people with Covid-19 in French intensive care, meanwhile, set a high for 2021.

Extended lockdowns and worries about the pace of vaccinations across Europe hobbled the euro, which was down 0.1 per cent against the dollar, at $1.1807.

The dollar index had hit its highest since November 2020 overnight, at 92.697, breaking its 200-day moving average.

"The dollar is absolutely critical," said James Athey, investment director at Aberdeen Standard Investments.

"While the 'reflation trade' has been largely driven by US fiscal stimulus and thus growth and inflation expectations, it has also been driven by rising input prices coming from higher commodity prices.

"If the dollar starts rallying, that becomes a problem. It means commodity weakness and emerging-market weakness and it starts to provide a disinflationary countervailing narrative."

MSCI's gauge of world stocks was 0.2 per cent lower, down for a second day and at its lowest level in more than two weeks.

Its broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell 0.2 per cent, bringing it closer to wiping out all the gains it has posted so far this year.

Weighing on sentiment was a sell-off in Chinese technology shares amid concern they will be delisted from US exchanges and worries about a semiconductor shortage.

In Hong Kong, companies with US listings led declines. lost 3.57 per cent and Alibaba fell 3.91 per cent.

China's blue-chip CSI300 index edged 0.05 per cent lower to its lowest close since December 11, weighed down by jitters about policy tightening and rising tensions between China and western countries over human rights allegations in Xinjiang.

The US securities regulator is introducing measures that would kick foreign companies off stock exchanges if they do not comply with US auditing standards, and require them to disclose any government affiliations – measures widely expected to hit Chinese companies.

As well as concerns about extended economic lockdowns in Europe, disruptions to the distribution of Covid-19 vaccinations and potential US tax hikes also dimmed investor sentiment.

"Rising interest rates, uncertainty of tax policy, concern over inflation all remain top-of-mind for investors. However, none of these themes speak to rising appetite for risk," said Peter Kenny of Kenny's Commentary and Strategic Board Solutions in Denver.

US crude fell 2.9 per cent to $59.41 per barrel, and Brent fell 2.7 per cent to $62.67 a barrel, giving back some gains made the previous day after one of the world's largest container ships ran aground in the Suez Canal, blocking the vital shipping lane.

Benchmark 10-year US Treasury yields eased to 1.6015 per cent. Investors have focused on the 10-year Treasury yield, pondering whether there is room for long-term interest rates to run, said David Kelly, chief global strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management.

"We know that the economy is primed to begin to really accelerate in the second quarter," Mr Kelly said. "But we haven't seen that acceleration yet, so that's what we're waiting for."