(A look at the day ahead from senior markets correspondent Tommy Wilkes. The views expressed are his own.) Stronger than-expected Chinese export numbers might boost speculation that the Asian giant’s economy can recover quickly and come to the aid of global growth. But markets gave the figures only a cautious welcome, focusing perhaps on the double-digit fall in imports as a reflection of collapsing demand.
Another warning on the world economic outlook came from the Bank of England which said the coronavirus crisis could cause the biggest economic slump in 300 years.
Markets are also wary of developments in Turkey where the lira has fallen to a record low of 7.25 against the U.S. dollar. With a Federal Reserve policymaker essentially ruling out a swap line to Ankara and net currency reserves at just around $25 billion, fears are growing for the external debt maturing this year and the risk that Turkey could set off a fresh wave of emerging market crises.
World stocks were up slightly in early London trading, with European bourses rising between 0.4% and 0.6% and Wall Street looking set for a positive open after a late plunge on Wednesday. After their April bounce, stocks have struggled for direction – the moves in many countries to relax restrictions on commerce are increasingly priced in, and the horrendous economic and corporate news keeps on coming.
Underscoring the edginess, the Japanese yen – still the go-to safe-haven currency – traded at seven-week highs of 106 against the dollar amid grim newsflow and a ratcheting up of U.S-China trade tensions. President Donald Trump said he could say in a week or two whether China was fulfilling its obligations under a trade deal signed in January.
Elsewhere in currency markets, sterling ticked higher towards $1.24 after the Bank of England held fire on pumping more quantitative easing into Britain’s economy. But with two of nine policymakers voting for 100 billion pounds’ more of bond-buying, the direction of travel is clearly for more easing. In what it called an illustrative scenario, the BOE sees a 14% plunge in Britain’s economy in 2020.
Adding to the mounting list of record or near-record output declines, Germany industry output plunged 9.2% in March, its fastest rate of decline since records began in 1991. Later on Thursday we get another set of U.S. jobless claims — expected to show a further 3 million rise. Friday’s April payrolls data meanwhile should show 22 million Americans pushed into unemployment. The jobless rate is expected at 16% or more, erasing more than a decade of job gains.
In Europe, Italian government borrowing costs have risen above the psychologically-important 2% level for the first time in two weeks, following a ruling by Germany’s constitutional court ruling that could jeopardise further ECB bond-buying.
The ruling, with potential to shake the very foundations of the European Union, has also hurt the euro, which holds near two-week lows. In commodity markets, crude oil prices had a more measured start to trading, with Brent crude down 1% at $29.4 a barrel
For European corporates, the now regular round of pulled 2020 earnings guidance and dramatic revenue drops was punctured by an M&A deal - Telefonica will merge British unit O2 with Virgin Media, owned by Liberty Global. That creates a British telecoms giant, with O2 valued at 12.7 billion pounds and Virgin Media at 18.7 billion pounds, including debt.
On dividends, BT suspended its dividend until 2021/22 while HeidelbergCement slashed dividend proposals. Equinor suspended its 2020 oil and gas output guidance.
A busy earnings day too: Norwegian Air passenger volumes fell 99% in April y-o-y. Also in airlines, British Airways-owner IAG said flights could return to service in July and that it has 10 billion euros of liquidity available. Other revenue drops were more modest: Osram said revenues decreased by 4.7% to 821 million euros.
In emerging markets, the brewing Turkish crisis aside, stocks were broadly flat as Chinese export numbers took some pressure off manufacturers in the world’s second-largest economy.
As regards the other emerging market pain point, Argentina, a group of 138 economists from 20 countries, including Nobel laureates Joseph Stiglitz and Edmund S. Phelps, urged bondholders to take a “constructive approach” to Argentina’s debt restructuring proposal.