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World stocks sideswiped by Wall Street, US yield curve double whammy

Reuters/London 05 Dec 18 | 05:55 PM

Global stocks tumbled to one-week lows on Wednesday, as declines by long-dated US bond yields and a renewal of trade concerns stoked fears of a downturn in the United States, the world's largest economy.

US markets are closed to mark former President George H W Bush's death, but the effect of Wall Street's turmoil in the previous session, when New York-listed shares tumbled more than 3 per cent, was felt in Asia and Europe.

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That pushed MSCI's all-country index down 0.4 per cent.

Tuesday's declines came just a day after an equity surge driven by optimism that China and the United States would sort out their trade dispute. Then President Donald Trump threatened "major tariffs" on Chinese imports if his administration failed to reach an effective trade deal with Beijing.

"As I look into next year, most expectations for further gains have been pared back. Investors have gone from extended bullishness at the start of the year on equities to an uncomfortable neutrality," said Paul O'Connor, head of multi-asset at Janus Henderson.

Trump's comments, alongside the drop in US stocks and bond yields, pushed Asian shares outside Japan 1.5 per cent lower. Shanghai markets fell 0.6 per cent, their losses limited by Chinese officials expressing confidence that a trade deal would be clinched on time.

But European losses were trimmed as the session continued, with a pan-European index down 0.75 per cent by 1145 GMT compared with falls of over one per cent earlier.

Global equities have been shaken by fears of a recession, fanned by the flattening US Treasury yield curve -- a phenomenon in which longer-dated debt yields fall faster than their shorter-dated counterparts.

Such an inversion of two-year and 10-year yields, when 10-year bonds yield less than their two-year debt, has preceded every US recession in the past 50 years.

"The market decline in the US overnight and the flattening of the yield curve reflect that economic growth momentum is taking over as the primary concern for investors," Tai Hui, a strategist at J.P. Morgan Asset Management told clients.

So far, 10-year yields are clinging to an 11-basis-point margin over the two-year, although it was the smallest one in over a decade.

The flattening of the curve gained momentum after last week's signal by the Federal Reserve that it may be nearing an end to its three-year rate-increase cycle. It has spread to the euro zone, where the German 2-10 yield curve hit its flattest since mid-2017 at 85.70 basis points.

German 10-year yields slipped to six-month lows of 0.247 per cent before rising back to 0.259 per cent.

Italian bonds extended their rally, with two-year yields falling 10 bps to 4 1/2-month lows after a cabinet official raised hopes that the government could cut nearly four billion euros from its 2019 budget plans.

Markets are also bracing for more news on the Brexit front. British Prime Minister Theresa May suffered embarrassing defeats on Tuesday, the start of five days of parliamentary debate over her plans to leave the European Union.

The pound rose off 17-month lows of $1.2659 hit on Tuesday to around $1.2780, up 0.3 per cent on the day, amid creeping optimism that Britain could opt to stay in the EU after all.

Economists at JP Morgan reckon the odds of Britain staying in the EU have increased to 40 per cent from 20 per cent previously, after the European Court of Justice's advocate general said Britain should be allowed to unilaterally revoke its departure notice.

The dollar has been undermined by the bond market moves and recession fears, but it has recovered from two-week lows against a basket of currencies to trade around 97, 0.10 per cent lower on the day.

It rose 0.1 per cent to 112.9 yen after losing 0.75 per cent the previous day against the safe-haven Japanese currency.

The threat of slowing economic activity also weighed on oil prices, but Brent futures trimmed losses to stand 0.4 per cent lower at $61.8 per barrel. It had earlier fallen more than 1 per cent.

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