Global stocks fall on fears of second coronavirus wave

London/Tokyo — Global stocks and oil prices fell on Wednesday as fears about a second wave of coronavirus infections gripped financial markets.

Investors, many facing steep losses due to the pandemic-driven shakeout in assets over the past few months, have also had to contend with renewed US-China trade tensions.

MSCI’s index of global shares was down 0.3%. The pan-European Stoxx 600 index slipped 1.6%. Banks acted as the drag after a number of negative updates.

Shares in Deutsche Bank fell 4.4% after it was reported that top managers will waive one month of fixed pay in an effort to cut costs, while fellow German lender Commerzbank and the Netherlands’ ABN Amro slumped following first-quarter losses.

“Earning season is largely behind us and we have entered phase two of Covid-19 as deconfinement of economies begins, and that is creating a lot of uncertainties daily, which is weighing on markets,” said François Savary, chief investment officer at Swiss wealth manager Prime Partners. “We don’t think this is the start of a new correction. Markets went too far, too fast and this is the consolidation.”

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares excluding Japan erased an early decline and rose 0.3%. US stock futures, the S&P 500 e-minis, reversed earlier gains to fall 0.2%.

Oil markets, which have plummeted this year due to a combination of a collapse in demand and a supply glut, lost further ground.

US treasury yields also edged lower amid caution before a speech by US Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell and rising speculation that the US could, one day, adopt negative interest rates.

Leading US infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci, on Tuesday, warned lawmakers that a premature lifting of lockdowns could lead to additional outbreaks of the deadly coronavirus, which has killed at least 83,000 Americans and brought the economy to its knees.

Fauci’s comments hammered Wall Street stocks overnight, underlining fragile investor sentiment which has, in recent sessions, swung between optimism over some easing in lockdowns globally and anxiety about a fresh spike in virus cases.

The mood was further soured by proposed legislation by a leading US Republican senator that would authorise President Donald Trump to impose sanctions on China if it fails to give a full account of events leading to the coronavirus outbreak.

Stock markets have rebounded sharply in recent weeks as the spread of the novel coronavirus slowed in some countries in Asia and Europe, while parts of the US economy and Europe began to reopen after weeks of lockdowns. However, some investors worry that a rush to reopen factories and shops may be premature.

The New Zealand dollar slumped to a six-month low after the country’s central bank doubled its quantitative easing programme and said it has asked commercial banks to be ready for negative interest rates by year’s end.

The dollar nursed losses as traders braced for Powell’s speech, which will cover economic issues and may offer hints on whether negative rates are a viable policy option.

The yield on benchmark 10-year US treasury notes traded at 0.6606%. The two-year yield stood at 0.1629%, above a record low of 0.1050% hit on Friday.

In Europe, the German 10-year government bond yield, which had risen about eight basis points (bps) since May 4, changed direction and fell about 3bps as demand for the safe debt increased.

The Italian 10-year government bond yield, which is the proxy for riskier peripheral European bonds, rose 2bps.

On Tuesday, Trump again pushed the Fed to adopt negative rates, a hot topic in financial markets since last week when US money markets started to price in a chance of rates below zero.

Oil futures fell as worries about the virus overcame hope that output cuts would put a floor under prices. US crude fell 1.6% to $25.36 a barrel. Brent crude fell 2.6% to $29.19 a barrel.