Asian markets swing after virus sparks Wall Street collapse

A man walking past an electronic stock board showing Japan's Nikkei 225 index at a securities firm in Tokyo on Tuesday (March 17). Shares have fallen in most Asian markets after the US stock market plunged to its worst day in more than three decades. - AP

HONG KONG: Asian markets fluctuated on Tuesday (March 17) after Wall Street suffered its worst day in more than three decades with the Covid-19 (coronavirus) panic sweeping the planet, though European equities enjoyed an early bounce.

While governments and central banks attempt to soothe markets with massive stimulus pledges and interest rate cuts, more countries are going into lockdown to prevent the outbreak's spread -- bringing the world economy juddering to a halt.

There is a broad consensus that the disease, which has wiped trillions off market valuations, will cause a global recession, with the airline industry among the first in the firing line, leading company heads to plead for billions of dollars in state help to prevent them going under.

"Drastic measures by the Federal Reserve and other central banks have failed to appease markets, with investors still running towards the exit door of risk assets as governments step up their radical measures to contain the Covid-19 outbreak," said National Australia Bank's Rodrigo Catril.

The Philippines became the first country to shut down its stock market as the country goes into lockdown, and the bourse will be closed until further notice.

Sydney rose 5.8%, a day after crashing 9.7% in its worst day on record.

But after an early advance, the rest of Asia swung in and out of positive territory through the day.

Tokyo ended up 0.1% after a roller-coaster session, Hong Kong added 0.9 percent and Mumbai rose 0.7%, while Bangkok was slightly higher.

But Shanghai slipped 0.3%, while Jakarta sank more than four%. Seoul, Taipei, Malaysia and Singapore were all down.

Wellington dipped despite New Zealand becoming the latest country to announce monetary support, unveiling a US$7.3bil package of measures.

That was followed later Tuesday by a 45 billion euro ($50 billion) aid pledge by France for its businesses.

In early trade, London rose 2.9 percent and Frankfurt surged 4.5 percent, while in Paris, where the market regulator banned short-selling on 92 stocks, the CAC 40 rallied four percent.

Wall Street indices collapsed on Monday in their worst day since 1987, with the S&P 500 and Nasdaq dropping about 12 percent and the Dow sinking nearly 13 percent. US futures rallied Tuesday.

"The message from markets is that as much as monetary stimulus is a welcome move, lowering the price of borrowing and increasing liquidity are not enough," added Catril.

"The required Covid-19 measures are hampering the global economy and with activity grinding to a halt, governments need to step in and provide support. Markets are crying out for more fiscal backing."

Heads of the Group of Seven leading economies pledged to "do whatever it takes" to protect the economy, while US President Donald Trump acknowledged the world's largest economy "may be" headed into recession.

However, he added that the crisis should wash through the economy by August, after which there would be a "tremendous surge in the stock market".

Oil prices edged up after Monday's collapse that saw Brent falling more than 12 percent to a four-year low, and WTI sliding below US$30 a barrel.

Adding to the weakness in crude markets is the price war between major producers Saudi Arabia and Russia.

"Presumably, the market is getting supported by physical bargain hunters, but those storage facilities are rapidly filling," said AxiCorp global chief market strategist Stephen Innes.

But "if storage does fill, quashing that demand, oil prices are sure to collapse further", he said in a note.

"The global markets will then have to hope that the dispute between Saudi Arabia and Russia is resolved before we reach that point of no return."

IHS Markit said rising production and slumping demand could result in the "most extreme global oil supply surplus ever recorded". - AFP
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