(Bloomberg) — A post-Thanksgiving selloff spread across global markets from stocks to commodities, and haven assets rallied, amid fears a new coronavirus variant identified in South Africa could spark fresh outbreaks and scuttle a fragile economic recovery.
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All eyes were on the opening bell for the U.S. markets, set to return from the holiday for a shortened trading session. Tumbling futures and a surging fear gauge signaled that the rout in Asia and Europe won’t spare New York equities. A rally in Treasuries suggested traders were cutting bets on monetary tightening by the Federal Reserve. The Japanese yen emerged as the main haven currency of the day, with the dollar languishing.
“Every trader in New York will be rushing to the office now,” said Frederik Hildner, a money manager at Salm-Salm & Partner.
The World Health Organization and scientists in South Africa were said to be working “at lightning speed” to ascertain how quickly the B.1.1.529 variant can spread and whether it’s resistant to vaccines. The new threat adds to the wall of worry investors are already contending with in the form of elevated inflation, monetary tightening and slowing growth.
Contracts on the S&P 500 Index and the Dow Jones Industrial Average slumped the most since September. Russell 2000 contracts sank as much as 5.4%. Technology shares may be caught in the net too as Nasdaq 100 futures slid. The CBOE Volatility Index, or VIX, increased as much as 9.4 percentage points to 28%.
Europe’s equity benchmark headed for the biggest drop in 13 months. Ten-year Treasury yields shed 10 basis points while the Japanese yen jumped the most since investors’ March 2020 rush for safety. Crude oil to emerging markets completed this picture of mayhem.
“It’s terrible news,” Ipek Ozkardeskaya, a senior analyst at Swissquote, said in emailed comments. “The new Covid variant could hit the economic recovery, but this time, the central banks won’t have enough margin to act. They can’t fight inflation and boost growth at the same time. They have to choose.”
Global travel stocks were in particular focus after the European Union, U.K., Israel, and Singapore placed emergency curbs on passengers from South Africa and the surrounding region. British Airways parent IAG SA tumbled as much as 21% in London. Carnival Corp. and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. lost 10% each in New York premarket session. Stay-at-home stocks such as Zoom Video Communications Inc. jumped in the early trading.
The selloff comes after global markets adopted a Jekyll-and-Hyde posture for months, with equities rallying to newer records even as concerns intensified over a toxic combination of high inflation and slower growth. Investors poured almost $900 billion into equity exchange-traded and long-only funds in 2021 — exceeding the combined total from the past 19 years.
“The problem is that the market has gone up a lot this year,” Cesar Perez Ruiz, chief investment officer at Pictet Wealth Management, said in emailed comments. “Valuations are high and given the uncertainties, the market sells first and asks questions later.”
Rate Wagers Cut
Traders pushed back the expected timing of a first 25-basis-point rate increase by the Federal Reserve to September from June, while briefly pricing out any more hikes unit 2023.
They also bet on less than a 10-basis-point hike by the Bank of England next month, compared with 35 basis points projected a month ago. They called for seven basis points of tightening by the European Central Bank by December 2022 as against nine basis points seen Thursday.
The yen and Swiss franc found bids from safety-conscious traders, while the dollar posted a modest loss. A gain for the euro, the biggest component of the Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index, also curbed the greenback.
MSCI Inc.’s Asia-Pacific equity gauge slid to the lowest since early October, with Japan and Hong Kong gauges dropping at least 2% each.
Some of the worst-hit assets were in emerging markets. The currency of South Africa, where the virus strain was identified, sank 1.9% and the Mexican peso fell by a similar degree. The MSCI EM Currency Index fell to a six-week low.
Crude oil futures in New York dropped as much as 7.4% to briefly trade below $73 per barrel. Copper, nickel and aluminum each declined at least 3% in London trading.
While the selling continued unabated, some investors said it’s important not to get carried away by short-term jitters.
“Markets have had a very strong run over the last 12 months and so it is no surprise to see a reaction like this,” said Dan Boardman-Weston, CIO at BRI Wealth Management. “If this is going to take the world backward from a Covid perspective, then it’s likely that inflation will abate and monetary policy will stay looser for a long time which is likely to be a positive for markets in the medium term.”
For more market analysis, read our MLIV blog.
Here are some key events this week:
Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey speaks with Mohamed El Erian at a Cambridge Union event. Thursday
Some of the main moves in markets:
Futures on the S&P 500 fell 1.6% as of 7:23 a.m. New York time
Futures on the Nasdaq 100 fell 0.8%
Futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 2.1%
The Stoxx Europe 600 fell 2.4%
The MSCI World index fell 0.7%
The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index fell 0.1%
The euro rose 0.6% to $1.1276
The British pound was little changed at $1.3327
The Japanese yen rose 1.2% to 114.01 per dollar
The yield on 10-year Treasuries declined 10 basis points to 1.53%
Germany’s 10-year yield declined six basis points to -0.31%
Britain’s 10-year yield declined 12 basis points to 0.85%
West Texas Intermediate crude fell 6.4% to $73.35 a barrel
Gold futures rose 1.4% to $1,811.20 an ounce
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