Shares squeeze out gains as economies look to reopen

LONDON/SYDNEY (Reuters) – World shares eked out slim gains on Wednesday, with optimism over economies easing coronavirus lockdowns and oil prices clawing back ground leavened by caution over corporate earnings.

MSCI world equity index .MIWD00000PUS, which tracks shares in 49 countries, ticked up 0.2%, with European shares mirroring a buoyant day in Asia after initially choppy trading.

The broad Euro STOXX 600 gained 0.1%, with German automaker Volkswagen VOWGp.DE saying it expected a full-year profit even after a plunge in first-quarter earnings and Daimler (DAIGn.DE) also eyeing an operating profit for its Mercedes-Benz Cars & Vans unit. Still, major drugmakers Roche (ROG.S) and Novartis (NOVN.S) weighed on the market, falling 2% and 0.7% respectively.

Markets in Frankfurt .GDAXI and Paris .FCHI both gained 0.3%, with London .FTSE adding 1%.

Risk assets including equities have rallied for most of this month thanks to heavy doses of fiscal and monetary policy stimulus around the globe aimed at softening the economic blow from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Still, Europe’s quarterly results continue to deteriorate, with Refinitiv data pointing to a 40.4% decline in earnings for companies listed on the STOXX 600, versus 37% a week ago.

Investors across the world are growing confident the pandemic may be peaking as parts of the United States, Europe and Australia gradually ease restrictions.

New Zealand this week allowed some businesses to reopen.

“The market is broadly buying stocks on the hope of the recovery and focusing on the eventual winners of this part of the cycle related to COVID-19, and then the structural winners,” said Sebastien Galy, a strategist at Nordea.

Positive news around potential treatments for the infection as well as progress in developing a vaccine have also boosted sentiment.

Earlier, MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS gained 1% to a near two-month peak. Wall Street futures ESc1 were up 0.7%, helped by forecast-beating revenues from Alphabet Inc’s Google (GOOGL.O).

CRUDE COMES BACK

Hopes the moves would help revive demand sent U.S. crude futures CLc1 up about 15% to $14.12 a barrel, paring a 27% plunge over the first two days of this week.

Brent crude LCOc1 futures rose 5% to $21.47 a barrel.

The moves also emboldened bets on riskier currencies, keeping the dollar on the back foot, with the greenback falling 0.3% to 99.610 against a basket of currencies =USD.

The euro EUR= was flat at $1.0860 though the euro index =EUR eased after Fitch cut Italy’s credit rating to BBB-, just one notch above “junk” status. Italy’s government bond yields rose after the cut.

Some analysts were circumspect about the rally in stocks, noting a concentration among tech and IT stocks.

“We were actually seeing a big dislocation in performance in the new world – the tech thing – and the old economy of industrials reliant on human costs,” said Olivier Marciot, portfolio manager at Unigestion.

Investors are now watching out for results from the other major tech firms including Amazon (AMZN.O) and Apple (AAPL.O). Earnings from Facebook (FB.O) and Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) are due later in the day.

The gains have come even as analysts predict a sharp contraction in world growth.

Moody’s expects economies of the group of 20 advanced nations (G20) to shrink 5.8% this year with momentum unlikely to recover to pre-coronavirus levels even in 2021.

Markets were next looking for any guidance from the U.S. Federal Reserve, which is due to issue a policy statement around 1800 GMT after its two-day meeting. The European Central Bank meets on Thursday.

Analysts said it was unlikely the Fed would make further major policy moves, given the scope and depth of its efforts to counter the economic damage caused by the coronavirus.

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