World stocks ease further from highs, oil dips on COVID-19 count

LONDON/SYDNEY (Reuters) – World stocks eased for the third day in a row and oil fell on Thursday tracking overnight weakness in Asia and Wall Street as widening COVID-19 restrictions weighed on market sentiment.

FILE PHOTO: A man wearing a protective face mask walks past a stock quotation board outside a brokerage, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Tokyo, Japan November 2, 2020. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Positive news about potential vaccines had helped push the MSCI World Index to a record high earlier in the week, only to see investors pull back as a host of countries announced record infection rates and tougher lockdowns.

At 0844 GMT, the broad gauge of global equities was trading down 0.3% while Europe’s major indexes were down around 0.7%. Oil prices also eased as virus restrictions crimped demand expectations.

The weaker sentiment was triggered by a late U.S. sell-off overnight that had seen the S&P 500 close down 1.1%; weighed by news COVID-19 deaths in the world’s biggest economy had passed 250,000, underpinning a host of lockdowns.

Similarly sombre news in Japan, where a record number of cases and a rise in Tokyo’s pandemic alert level sent the Nikkei down 0.4%. MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell 0.5%.

“The biggest question in the markets right now is whether the headlines of renewed school closures, lockdowns and social restrictions is enough to derail vaccine positives and the fact that COVID survival rates are climbing along with the hospitalisation and infection rates,” said a London-based trader.

The positive vaccine news had continued yesterday after Pfizer said its COVID-19 vaccine was 95% effective and it would apply for emergency U.S. authorization within days, following a similar recent report from Moderna.

Looking ahead, Wall Street futures point to a steady open, with all eyes on the Federal Reserve for further signs it could step in with fresh monetary stimulus – something two officials nodded to on Wednesday..

Investors will also await U.S. jobs data at 1330 GMT.

Against a basket of currencies the dollar was last at 92.575, marginally in the black but just off its recent low of 92.129. The euro, meanwhile, was down 0.1% and just short of the recent peak of $1.1919.

“The vaccines news are a positive medium-term impulse for the global economic outlook and investors are trying to weigh that against the prospect of an imminent stalling of the European and U.S. recovery amid the prospect of extensions of current lockdown measures,” said Rodrigo Catril, a senior FX strategist at NAB.

Sterling, however, was weaker still, down 0.5% after a report Europe’s leaders would demand the European Commission publish no-deal plans as the deadline for talks over a trade deal go down to the wire.

Despite the equity market caution, gold traders continued to take a longer-term view, betting the COVID-19 vaccines would translate into a quicker economic recovery, sending the yellow metal to a one-week low.

Bitcoin, sometimes regarded as a safe haven or at least a hedge against inflation, also pulled back and last stood at $17,500.

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