Global shares begin second half with a whimper despite positive data
By Reuters |   |  Others

LONDON: Global stocks struggled for momentum on Wednesday as improving economic data was offset by concern that surging coronavirus cases in the United States could derail the world's recovery before it properly begins.

Germany's manufacturing sector contracted at a slower pace in June, while French factory activity rebounded into growth, data showed.

German retail sales rose sharply in May, reflecting a rebound in private consumption, while a recovery in China's factory activity offered further signs that the world's second-largest economy may have passed the worst of the devastation caused by the pandemic.

Germany's jobless rate rose by 69,000 in June, far less than expected. Economic institute Ifo said Europe's largest economy will gradually recover after the slump caused by the pandemic and will likely return to last year's level at the end of 2021.

Coronavirus cases surged, with the United States recording 47,000 infections on Tuesday, its biggest single-day spike since the pandemic began.

MSCI's world shares index was 0.1% higher after rising 18% for its biggest three-month gain since 2009 in the second quarter, but it still closed the first half around 8% lower from where it started the year.

After their best quarter since March 2015, European stocks opened firmer, with the broader Euro STOXX 600 gaining 0.3%.

"We are at the beginning of the quarter but it doesn't look very different from where we left the last one," said Fran├žois Savary, chief investment officer at Swiss wealth manager Prime Partners, predicting "a further consolidation over the summer."

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.3%, led by gains in China. E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 were down 0.2%.

It followed a strong finish to the quarter on Wall Street but also a loss of momentum in recent weeks as US infection rates have surged, with some states reimposing restrictions on business and personal activity.

The S&P 500 index rose 1.5% for an almost 20% gain over the past three months, fuelled by unprecedented central bank stimulus and hopes for a swift pandemic recovery, but it rose only 1.8% in June.

Coronavirus cases more than doubled in 14 US states last month, and fears are growing that the caseload could prompt fresh lockdowns.

"The rise in Covid-19 infections is now triggering a reversal on the reopening strategy," said Rodrigo Catril, senior FX strategist at National Australia Bank in Sydney. "It remains to be seen if the US economy will continue to surprise over the coming month."

The US government bond market remains in a cautious mood. Yields on benchmark 10-year government debt rose overnight to 0.6774% but finished the quarter steady.

In Europe, Germany's 10-year yield rose to a one-week high, rising 2 basis points on the day to -0.44, helped by better than expected German retail sales.

Unwelcome developments

China's introduction of sweeping new laws to crack down on dissent in Hong Kong also has investors eying geopolitical tensions with trepidation.

The laws have prompted fresh protests in the city and Washington has begun dismantling Hong Kong's special status under US law.

"It's one of a number of geopolitical factors which is a negative for some asset classes now," said Imre Speizer, a foreign exchange strategist at Westpac in Auckland.

Currency markets were in a holding pattern before the next slew of data due to provide a snapshot of the US recovery.

The dollar rose overnight but edged back down in early London trading, before US manufacturing PMI (purchasing managers index) and unemployment data. The euro was broadly flat on the day, at US$1.12275.

US manufacturing activity data on Wednesday is forecast to show a recovery from an 11-year low in April while the non-farm payrolls report on Thursday is expected to show the economy added 3 million jobs in June.

Gold hovered near an 8-year high at US$1787.86 an ounce.

Brent crude rose 2.5% to US$42.32 a barrel while US crude was up 2.7% at US$40.31 after an industry report showed crude stockpiles in the US staged a bigger drop than expected. - July 1, 2020, Reuters

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