Stocks dive as rescue bids by Fed, peers fail to calm panicky markets


SYDNEY/HONG KONG (Reuters) – Stock markets were routed and the dollar stumbled on Monday after the Federal Reserve slashed interest rates in an emergency move and its major peers offered cheap U.S. dollars to ease a ruinous logjam in global lending markets.

FILE PHOTO: People wearing protective face masks, following an outbreak of the coronavirus, are reflected on a screen showing Nikkei index, outside a brokerage in Tokyo, Japan February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

European markets were also poised to open sharply lower, with EUROSTOXX 50 futures down 3.4% and FTSE futures down down 2.7%. E-mini futures for the S&P 500 index hit their downlimit in the first quarter-hour of Asian trade as investors rushed for safety.

The Fed’s emergency 100 basis point cut on Sunday was followed on Monday by the Bank of Japan easing policy further with a pledge to ramp up purchases of exchange-traded funds and other risky assets.

New Zealand’s central bank also shocked by cutting rates 75 basis points to 0.25%, while the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) pumped more money into a strained financial system.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said G7 leaders would hold a teleconference at 1400 GMT to discuss the crisis.

The drastic maneuvers were aimed at cushioning the economic impact as the breakneck spread of the coronavirus all but shut down more countries, though they had only limited success in calming panicky investors.

MSCI’s index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan tumbled 4% to lows not seen since early 2017, while the Nikkei fell 2% as the Bank of Japan’s easing steps failed to stabilize market confidence.

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Data out of China also underscored just how much economic damage the disease had already done to the world’s second-largest economy, with official numbers showing the worst drops in activity on record. Industrial output plunged 13.5% and retail sales 20.5%.

“By any historical standard, the scale and scope of these actions was extraordinary,” said Nathan Sheets, chief economist at PGIM Fixed Income, who helps manage $1.3 trillion in assets. “This is dramatic action and truly does represent a bazooka.”

“Even so, markets were expecting extraordinary action, so it remains to be seen whether the announcement will meaningfully shift market sentiment.”

He emphasized investors wanted to see a lot more U.S. fiscal stimulus put to work and evidence the Trump administration was responding vigorously and effectively to the public health challenges posed by the crisis.

“The performance of the economy and the markets will be mainly determined by the severity and duration of the virus’ outbreak.”

Shanghai blue chips fell 3% even as China’s central bank surprised with a fresh round of liquidity injections into the financial system. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index tumbled 3.4%.

Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 plunged, finishing down 9.7% for its steepest fall since the 1987 crash.

UNDER STRAIN

Markets have been severely strained as bankers, companies and individual investors stampeded into cash and safe-haven assets, while selling profitable positions to raise money to cover losses in savaged equities.

Such is the dislocation the Fed cut interest rates by 100 basis points on Sunday to a target range of 0% to 0.25%, and promised to expand its balance sheet by at least $700 billion in coming weeks.

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Five of its peers also joined up to offer cheap U.S. dollar funding for financial institutions facing stress in credit markets.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who has been haranguing the Fed to ease policy, called the move “terrific” and “very good news.”

“It may be a shot in the arm for risk assets and help to address liquidity concerns…however, it also raises the question of whether the Fed has anything left in the tank should the spread of the virus not be contained,” said Kerry Craig, global market Strategist at J.P. Morgan Asset Management.

“We really need to see the fiscal side…to prevent a longer than needed economic slowdown.”

The Fed’s rate cut combined with the promise of more bond buying pushed U.S. 10-year Treasury yields down sharply to 0.68%, from 0.95% late on Friday.

That pressured the U.S. dollar at first, though it regained some ground as the Asian session wore on. The dollar was last down 1.4% on the Japanese yen at 106.37. The euro was flat at $1.1123.

FILE PHOTO: Federal Reserve Board building on Constitution Avenue is pictured in Washington, U.S., March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo

The commodity-exposed Australian dollar fell 0.3% to $0.6166 while the New Zealand dollar slipped 0.2% to $0.6044.

Oil prices fell on concerns about global demand. Brent crude was last off $1.31 at $32.54 per barrel while U.S. crude slipped 78 cents to $30.94 a barrel.

Gold rallied 0.8% to $1,541.34.

Reporting by Wayne Cole in Sydney and Kane Wu in Hong Kong; Editing by Sam Holmes & Shri Navaratnam



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