By Tom Arnold
LONDON (Reuters) – Global shares struggled on Wednesday as mixed earnings, doubts about the easing of coronavirus lockdowns and simmering U.S.-China tensions cast a pall over markets.
Oil prices ended an extended winning streak on oversupply risks.
MSCI’s index of global shares <.MIWD00000PUS> was trading flat. The pan-European STOXX 600 <.STOXX> was 0.3% higher, with losses in oil and gas shares weighing on the index. Shares in UniCredit < CRDI.MI> fell about 1% after Italy’s biggest bank posted a 2.7 billion-euro loss in the first quarter amid loan writedowns in anticipation of the damage caused by the pandemic.
“Earnings season is not great, but it’s really the issue of the virus and the end of the lockdown, and sentiment towards that will push the market,” said Francois Savary, chief investment officer at Swiss wealth manager Prime Partners.
“We think there’ll be a consolidation for the equity market. It won’t take us back to the lows we saw in March, but markets are waiting for a clearer outlook on how the lockdown will end.”
Germany and Spain are among economies gradually emerging from lockdowns, but the outlook for an easing of restrictions elsewhere is less certain.
Wall Street futures were positive, with E-minis for the S&P500 up 0.6%.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia Pacific shares outside of Japan <.MIAPJ0000PUS> climbed 0.7%. Volumes were light with Japanese markets closed for a holiday.
China, opening for the first time since Thursday, reversed early losses, sending the blue-chip index <.CSI300> up 0.6%.
In a move that was seen by analysts as offering a olive branch to Washington amid the trade tensions, China’s central bank set the yuan at a broadly neutral midpoint. The exchange rate has been a contentious point in Sino-U.S. ties.
“The People’s Bank of China went a long way to extinguishing one major trade war hotspot by setting the yuan reference rate on a more risk-friendly level,” said Stephen Innes, chief markets strategist at AxiCorp.
“USD/CNH dropped about 200 pips on the stable fix, and a recovery in risk sentiment ensued, and there was no follow-through on U.S. President Trump’s threat to China.”
Donald Trump has repeatedly taken aim at China as the source of the pandemic and warned that it would be held to account. On Tuesday, he urged China to be transparent about the origins of the coronavirus, which began in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.
On Wall Street overnight, the S&P 500 pared earlier gains after U.S. Federal Reserve Vice Chair Richard Clarida warned that economic data would get worse before it got better.
In currencies, the euro resumed its fall, declining to a six-day low of $1.0816 on Wednesday. The currency was still under pressure after Germany’s top court on Tuesday ruled that the European Central Bank’s quantitative-easing programme “partially violated” the German constitution.
The yen rose 0.2% to 106.35, having earlier reached 106.20, its strongest since March 17. The dollar index was flat at 99.810.
The ADP National Employment Report of private U.S. payrolls on Wednesday could foretell the damage to be revealed on Friday in the U.S. government’s measure of jobs in April. It’s expected to show nearly 22 million jobs were lost last month.
German borrowing costs rose before the country’s first syndicated bond sale in half a decade. Germany’s benchmark 10-year yields rose two basis points to -0.55%, though they remain close to Tuesday’s seven-week lows.
In commodities, U.S. crude futures fell 22 cents to $24.34 a barrel after five straight sessions of gains. Brent crude dropped 25 cents $30.72.
The decline was prompted by a higher-than-expected rise in U.S. inventories, refocusing investors on the risk of oversupply amid a slump in fuel demand. Analysts cautioned the rebalancing of the market would be choppy.
“We’re talking about normalisation of supply and demand’ but we’ve got a long way to go,” said Lachlan Shaw, National Australia Bank’s head of commodity strategy.
“There are a lot of supply cuts that have come through. That combined with some early signs of demand lifting has meant the rate of inventory build is slowing.”
Spot gold eased 0.1% to $1,704 an ounce.
(Additional reporting by Swati Pandey in Sydney; editing by Larry King)