European markets firmer, but China shares fall to new five-year lows

Sydney/London — China shares fell to new five-year lows on Friday and posted their worst weekly drop in five years, while bumper earnings at Amazon and Meta helped buoy world stocks ahead of key US jobs data later in the day.

The Shanghai Composite closed 1.5% lower with investors disappointed by cautious and piecemeal government stimulus measures to shore up the shaky economy.

For the week, the index sank 6.2%, its largest such loss since October 2018. The blue-chip CSI300 hit a five-year low, while shares in drug research & development group WuXi AppTec slid 20% in Hong Kong after its mention in a US bill aimed at restricting access to Americans’ genetic data revived geopolitical concerns.

“The tension between the US and China seems not dissipating,” said Saxo’s chief China strategist, Redmond Wong.

Investors are also growing impatient at the lack of big-ticket stimulus to shore up demand and confidence, Wong said.

Still, China pain and renewed US regional bank worries, failed to put a significant dent in world stock markets with investors taking comfort from upbeat earnings.

European shares were broadly firmer, while US stock futures pointed to a strong open on Wall Street.

Quarterly results from Meta Platforms and impressed investors, with their shares surging 15% and 7% in after-hours trading, respectively, adding a combined $280bn in stock market value. Apple, however, fell 3% after the close on disappointing China sales.

In Europe, Danske Bank jumped over 6% after the Danish lender reported fourth-quarter results and announced a share buyback program, while carmaker Mercedes-Benz rallied after an upbeat update.

In Tokyo, Japan’s Aozora Bank however slumped for a second straight session after provisioning for US office loan losses.

Concerns about the health of regional US lenders have resurfaced after New York Community Bancorp this week reported increased stress in its commercial real estate portfolio.

Here come payrolls 

After early action, focus across world markets turns to the release of the January US jobs report at 1330 GMT.

Economists polled by Reuters estimated the US economy added 180,000 new jobs last month after creating 216,000 in December.

The data could further dampen market expectations of an interest-rate cut in March, with annual wage growth forecast to have maintained its solid pace last month.

The Federal Reserve on Wednesday signalled that rates would move lower this year but pushed back against expectations for an imminent rate cut.

Reflecting the still sizeable cuts expected to come this year — about 145 bps are priced in — and renewed jitters over regional US banks adding to safe-haven demand, longer-term Treasuries are headed for the best week since mid-December.

Ten-year Treasury yields were 3 basis points higher in London trade at around 3.89%, but are still down a whopping 27 bps for the week.

The rate sensitive two-year yield was up 4 bps at 4.23%, but down 15 bps on the week.

This week’s slide in bond yields kept the dollar on the back foot. The dollar index was a slightly lower on the day and on track for its first weekly decline of the year.

“Despite the Federal Reserve pushing back against prospects of a March cut, interest rates have still come lower. That may be a function of investors watching US regional banks remain under pressure,” said Chris Turner, global head of markets at ING.

“Or more likely it reflects a conviction call that policy rates are coming lower this year and there is no point fighting this overwhelming trend. This is the reason that the dollar did not build on gains seen early yesterday.”

The euro was a touch firmer at $1.0880, while sterling was perched at $1.2749, having rallied 0.5% after the Bank of England said on Thursday it would tread carefully about rate cuts.

In energy markets, oil prices recouped some losses from the previous day after a decision by Opec+ to keep its oil output policy unchanged, though they are still headed for weekly losses.

Brent crude futures were flat at around $78.68 a barrel, after falling more than 2% the previous day, and US West Texas Intermediate crude a touch softer at $73.74 a barrel.

Safe-haven gold was flat at $2,053.