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Markets

Stocks ease as gloomy data takes shine off US stimulus hopes

  • Euro zone business activity shrank in January, survey shows.
  • Italy 10-year benchmark yield at highest since November.
  • Sentiment also hit by China virus restrictions.
  • Oil, gold weaker.
Published January 22, 2021

LONDON: Global shares slipped off record highs on Friday as gloomy data reminded investors of the struggles facing the economic recovery, curbing a rally fuelled by hopes of US stimulus by newly inaugurated President Joe Biden.

Sentiment in Europe was already more cautious after Thursday's European Central Bank meeting, in which the bank's message was perceived as more hawkish than expected.

The yield on Italian 10-year benchmark bonds touched its highest since early November on reports that Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte may be tempted by the prospect of a snap election.

The Euro STOXX 600 was 1% weaker, heading for its worst daily showing of the year so far, as investors digested weaker flash PMI readings for January. Lockdown restrictions to contain the coronavirus pandemic hit the bloc's dominant service industry.

The FTSE 100 index slipped 0.7% as data showed British retailers struggled to recover in December from a partial coronavirus lockdown the previous month.

The MSCI world equity index, which tracks shares in almost 50 countries, was 0.3% softer following three straight sessions of gains. E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 stumbled 0.7%.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia Pacific stocks outside of Japan was 0.8% lower.

The risk-off mood followed a period of relief after the transition of power in the United States, culminating in Biden's inauguration on Wednesday, and strong expectations that US stimulus will provide continued support for global assets.

"The fact that there would be US stimulus was well known and the size of the package and the very high-level details of what they're aiming for with the package was well known some while ago," said James Athey, investment director at Aberdeen Standard Investments.

"The realities of what is likely to be achievable relatively quickly are not supportive of just blindly buying cyclical assets. There's a lot more nuance and a lot more politics to go on before we get there."

Republicans in the US Congress have indicated they are willing to work with Biden on his administration's top priority, a $1.9 trillion US fiscal stimulus plan, though some are opposed to the price tag.

Democrats took control of the US Senate on Wednesday, though they will still need Republican support to pass the plan.

China's composite stock index slid 0.4%, while the blue-chip CSI300 index edged up 0.1%.

Travel plans were in limbo for tens of millions of people in China's northern cities. They have been under some kind of lockdown amid worries that undetected coronavirus infections could spread quickly during the Lunar New Year holiday, which is just weeks away.

China reported 103 COVID-19 cases on Friday.

In currency markets, the US dollar gained after three straight days of losses, though it was still on track for its biggest weekly loss since mid-December. The currency was slightly up on the day at 90.182.

The Japanese yen was down around 0.1% against the dollar, at 103.63.

Data from Japan overnight showed that factory activity slipped into contraction in January and the services sector was more pessimistic as emergency measures to combat a COVID-19 resurgence hit sentiment.

The dollar's recent slide has been led by investors ploughing money into higher-yielding currencies on optimism about a rapid economic recovery led by the US stimulus.

In commodities, oil prices were weighed down by worries that new pandemic restrictions in China will curb fuel demand in the world's biggest oil importer.

Brent crude futures fell 2.5% to $54.68 a barrel. US crude was 2.6% lower at $51.75 per barrel.

Spot gold was down 1.1% at 1,849.3 an ounce.

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