NEW YORK/LONDON (Reuters) – Global stock markets dropped on Thursday as investors shied from risk and sought safe havens such as the U.S. dollar on fears that a resurgence in coronavirus cases and a lack of more U.S. fiscal stimulus would hobble the world economy.
An unexpected rise in the U.S. weekly jobless claims figures further reinforced concerns that the U.S. economy may sputter if government does not act soon to shore up growth, especially in the face of a spike in COVID-19 cases in Europe.
The run of negative news dragged on European shares, which were on course for their worst day in 3-1/2 weeks. Ongoing difficulties in Brexit trade talks were also a dampener.
“Virus restrictions across Europe continue to sour sentiment,” wrote Win Thin and Ilan Solot, currency strategists at BBH Global Currency Strategy, adding that a U.S. fiscal stimulus package is “deader than Elvis.”
“Now, the U.S. economy goes into the winter months without much-needed fiscal stimulus,” they wrote in a note.
The pan-European STOXX 600 skidded 2.2% to a near two-week low, marking its biggest one-day fall in 3-1/2 weeks. Markets in London and Paris fell 1.9% and 2.2% respectively, and Frankfurt and Milan were 2.6%-2.9%.
U.S. investment bank Morgan Stanley was a bright spot, beating expectations on Thursday by announcing a 26% jump in third-quarter profit as its trading desks benefited from more volatile markets during the pandemic.
But that was not enough to push U.S. stock indices into the black, especially after Thursday’s weekly U.S. jobless claims figures showed a bigger-than-expected rise to 898,000 from 840,000 the previous week.
The S&P 500 fell 36 points, or 1%, to 3,452.75, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average shed 267 points, or 0.9%, to 28,238.71. The Nasdaq Composite lost 171 points, or 1.5%, to 11,598.00.
In Asia, MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares lost 1.3% with Hong Kong and India both down over 2% and Japan’s Nikkei closing down 0.5%.
The shift toward safety helped the U.S. dollar, a traditional safe-haven asset. The greenback jumped 0.5% against a basket of six major currencies to 93.871.
A firmer dollar dragged on the euro, which drooped 0.4% against the greenback to $1.1694. Sterling also struggled, slipping 0.9% to $1.2896.
A two-day summit of European Union leaders starts on Thursday as the EU and Britain continue their efforts to overcome stumbling blocks including fishing rights and competition safeguards to reaching a trade deal before British Brexit transition arrangements end on Dec. 31.
Investors will tune into European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde, who takes part in a debate on the global economy at 1600 GMT as part of the IMF and World Bank’s annual meeting, which is being held virtually.
Traders’ preference for safety also helped government bonds. Germany’s government bonds rallied to leave their yields at their lowest level since the March spread of COVID-19 caused a global meltdown in stock markets and other riskier assets. [GVD/EUR] Ten-year U.S. Treasury yield edged down to 0.7107%.
A firmer dollar weighed on gold, with spot gold down 0.2% at $1,896.51 per ounce.
Oil prices also fell as the renewed surge in the virus in large parts of the world underpinned concerns about economic activity.
Brent crude futures dropped 2.6% to $42.17 a barrel, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures fell 2.9% to $39.87 a barrel.
Reporting by Koh Gui Qing; Editing by Will Dunham