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London - Global shares struggled on Wednesday as weak economic data, doubts about the easing of coronavirus lockdowns and simmering U.S.-China tensions cast a pall over markets.
Oil prices extended their run of gains, supported by expectations that demand will recover and by a record supply cut from OPEC and other producers.
MSCI's index of global shares was trading 0.1% up. The pan-European STOXX 600 was 0.3% higher, helped by gains in healthcare stocks on the back of better-than-expected quarterly results from Denmark's Novo Nordisk and German dialysis specialist Fresenius Medical Care.
Shares in UniCredit recovered from earlier falls to trade 0.9% higher. Italy's biggest bank reported a 2.7 billion-euro loss in the first quarter amid loan writedowns in anticipation of the damage caused by the pandemic.
"Earnings season is not great, but it's really the issue of the virus and the end of the lockdown, and sentiment towards that will push the market," said Francois Savary, chief investment officer at Swiss wealth manager Prime Partners.
"We think there'll be a consolidation for the equity market. It won't take us back to the lows we saw in March, but markets are waiting for a clearer outlook on how the lockdown will end."
Germany and Spain are among economies gradually emerging from lockdowns, but the outlook for an easing of restrictions elsewhere is less certain.
In a reminder of the economic damage from the lockdown, euro zone business activity almost ground to a halt last month, IHS Markit's final Composite Purchasing Managers' Index showed.
The European Commission forecast the euro zone economy will contract by a record 7.7% this year, while the inflation rate will slow to 0.2%, but public debt and budget deficits will balloon.
Wall Street futures were positive, with E-minis for the S&P500 up 0.8%.
MSCI's broadest index of Asia Pacific shares outside of Japan climbed 0.6%. Volumes were light with Japanese markets closed for a holiday.
China, opening for the first time since Thursday, reversed early losses, sending its blue-chip index up 0.6%.
In a move seen by analysts as offering a olive branch to Washington amid the trade tensions, China's central bank set the yuan at a broadly neutral midpoint. The exchange rate has been a contentious point in China-U.S. ties.
"The People's Bank of China went a long way to extinguishing one major trade war hotspot by setting the yuan reference rate on a more risk-friendly level," said Stephen Innes, chief markets strategist at AxiCorp.
"USD/CNH dropped about 200 pips on the stable fix, and a recovery in risk sentiment ensued, and there was no follow-through on U.S. President Trump's threat to China."
President Donald Trump has repeatedly taken aim at China as the source of the pandemic and warned that it would be held to account. On Tuesday, he urged China to be transparent about the origins of the coronavirus, which began in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.
On Wall Street overnight, the S&P 500 pared earlier gains after U.S. Federal Reserve Vice Chair Richard Clarida warned that economic data would get worse before it got better.
In currencies, the euro resumed its fall, declining to a near two-week low of $1.0786 on Wednesday. The currency was still under pressure after Germany's top court on Tuesday ruled that the European Central Bank's quantitative-easing programme "partially violated" the German constitution.
The yen rose 0.2% to 106.35, having earlier reached 106.20, its strongest since March 17.
The ADP National Employment Report of private U.S. payrolls on Wednesday could give an early warning of the damage expected to be revealed on Friday in the U.S. government's measure of jobs in April. It is expected to show nearly 22 million jobs were lost last month.
German borrowing costs rose before the country's first syndicated bond sale in half a decade. Germany's benchmark 10-year yields rose two basis points to -0.55%, though they remain close to Tuesday's seven-week lows.
In commodities, U.S. crude futures rose 88 cents to $25.44 a barrel. Brent crude was up 79 cents to $31.76, having risen in the past six sessions. The market is anticipating that demand will recover and that a record supply cut led by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries will support prices.
Analysts said the rebalancing of the market would be choppy.
"We're talking about normalisation of supply and demand but we've got a long way to go," said Lachlan Shaw, National Australia Bank's head of commodity strategy.
"There are a lot of supply cuts that have come through. That combined with some early signs of demand lifting has meant the rate of inventory build is slowing."
Spot gold eased 0.1% to $1,704 an ounce.
(Additional reporting by Swati Pandey in Sydney; editing by Larry King and Jane Merriman)