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Stocks rally fizzles, bond markets ponder risks for US economy

The breather in stocks followed three to four straight days of gains that more than erased losses sustained when Russia invaded Ukraine five weeks ago, and came as bond investors wondered whether the U.S. Federal Reserve's policy tightening could harm the world's biggest economy over the longer term.

March 31, 2022 / 06:15 AM IST

The U.S. and European equities rally wavered on Wednesday as investors reviewed economic and geopolitical risks, while oil prices jumped more than $2 on the prospect of more Russian sanctions.

The breather in stocks followed three to four straight days of gains that more than erased losses sustained when Russia invaded Ukraine five weeks ago, and came as bond investors wondered whether the U.S. Federal Reserve's policy tightening could harm the world's biggest economy over the longer term.


A key part of the U.S. yield curve briefly inverted on Tuesday in what is widely viewed as a harbinger of a recession, although it has since reverted.


"We see further equity upside medium-term given a robust growth picture, low bar for first-quarter earnings, and narrowing credit spreads," analysts at JP Morgan's Global Markets Strategy said.


"We see too much negativity around the Fed since the start of Fed tightening cycles proved positive for equities historically, and policy is easing in Japan and China."


The Dow Jones Industrial Average ended down 0.19%, the S&P 500 fell 0.63%, and the Nasdaq Composite shed 1.2%.

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Europe's broad Euro STOXX 600 lost 0.4%, while the MSCI world equity index, which tracks shares in 50 countries, eased 0.32%.


The widely tracked yield curve showing the difference between two- and 10-year U.S. Treasury yields bounced back to 4 basis points on Wednesday. It had briefly inverted to minus 0.03 of a basis point on Tuesday for the first time since September 2019.


Longer-dated yields falling below shorter ones indicate a lack of faith in future growth. A drop in 10-year yields below 2-year rates signals a recession.


Sebastien Galy, a senior macro strategist at Nordea Asset Management, said fixed income and equity markets are diverging in their outlooks and the split bears watching.


"Equity markets are overly optimistic and the fixed income markets are probably being overly pessimistic."


An inverted Treasury curve has in recent decades been followed by a recession within two years, including the 2020 downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.


Benchmark indexes in Frankfurt and Paris lost 1.5% and 0.74% respectively, while London shares bucked the trend and jumped 0.55%.



A day after rising above 0% for the first time since 2014, Germany's two-year bond yield was up 6 basis points at 0.01% - keeping the previous day's highs in sight.


Shares rallied in Asia overnight after Ukraine proposed on Tuesday that it adopt neutral status, a sign of progress in face-to-face peace talks.


On the ground, attacks continued and Ukraine reacted with scepticism to Russia's promise in negotiations to scale down military operations around Kyiv.


MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan jumped 1.36% to its highest level in nearly a month, with most Asian stock markets in positive territory.


JAPAN IN FOCUS


The benchmark U.S. 10-year yield was last at 2.3415% , after rising to 2.557% on Monday, its highest level since April 2019, as traders geared up for quick-fire U.S. interest rate hikes.


Rising U.S. yields have also lifted government bond yields in Japan, where inflation is running below target and where the central bank wants yields to stay low.


The Bank of Japan increased efforts to defend its key yield cap on Wednesday, offering to ramp up buying of government bonds across the curve, including unscheduled emergency market operations.


The widening gap between U.S. and Japanese yields has caused the yen to weaken sharply, but it pared losses on Wednesday.


The Japanese currency rose 0.9% to 121.81 per dollar from Monday's low of 124.3, amid concerns Japanese authorities might step in to bolster the yen.


Elsewhere in currency markets, the euro rose 0.6% to $1.1156, its highest in four weeks, supported by the Russia-Ukraine peace talks.


In commodities, oil prices jumped more than $2 on supply tightness and the growing prospect of new Western sanctions against Russia even as Moscow and Kyiv held peace talks.


Brent crude futures were up $2.28, or 2.1%, at $112.51, while U.S. crude rose 2.9% to $107.3 per barrel.


Spot gold added 0.8% to $1,935.38 an ounce.



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Reuters
first published: Mar 31, 2022 06:15 am
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