Oil prices slid and world equity markets seesawed on Wednesday as investor hopes for a pickup in business activity were dashed by downbeat economic data and a rise in U.S. crude stockpiles to three-year highs that highlighted low fuel demand.
Remarks by U.S. President Donald Trump that cast doubt on a trade deal signed in January with China helped pull U.S. stocks lower before the market’s close.
The safe-haven Japanese yen and dollar rose on data showing U.S. private payrolls tumbled by a record 20.2 million workers in April, German industrial orders fell at a record pace in March, and British construction activity fell to an all-time low last month.
The dollar index rose 0.389%, with the euro down 0.43% to $1.0791. The Japanese yen strengthened 0.45% versus the greenback at 106.15 per dollar.
Retail sales in the euro zone also suffered their largest decline on record in March.
Demand has collapsed globally as the coronavirus epidemic has resulted in massive lockdowns, and many investors see the prospect of a swift recovery as difficult, even as the gradual opening of economies worldwide has given hope to others.
Trying to gauge economic growth in light of the pandemic has sent investors searching for new insights, especially in China as its economy was the first to reopen, said Yousef Abbasi, global market strategist at INTL FCStone Financial Inc in New York.
“When are you going to see those businesses retake capacity comparable to the last year? That’s the big question,” Abbasi said. “It really is about where you think demand is going to come back or where you think demand never really dropped off.”
Technology stocks perceived to be resilient to a changing economic and work environment led gainers on Wall Street.
“The leadership has come from stocks that benefit from a stay-at-home economy,” said Jack Janasiewicz, portfolio strategist at Natixis Investment Managers.
The pan-European STOXX 600 index closed down 0.35% while MSCI’s gauge of stocks across the globe rose 0.1%.
On Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 218.45 points, or 0.91%, to 23,664.64. The S&P 500 lost 20.02 points, or 0.70%, to 2,848.42, and the Nasdaq Composite added 45.27 points, or 0.51%, to 8,854.39.
The blue-chip Dow came under pressure from declines in oil giant Chevron Corp as crude prices fell. The S&P 500 energy sub-index dropped 1.1%.
General Motors Co closed up 3.0% after the automaker topped profit expectations and outlined plans for a May 18 restart of most of its North American plants.
Oil slid below $30 a barrel as crude stocks rose and gasoline demand remained below normal seasonal levels, snapping a six-day winning streak for Brent futures that helped the global benchmark almost double in price from a 21-year low on April 22.
U.S. crude inventories rose by 4.6 million barrels in the week to May 1, to 532.2 million barrels, compared with analysts’ expectations for a 7.8 million-barrel rise.
U.S. oil futures fell 57 cents to settle at $23.99 a barrel and U.S. brent crude settled down $1.25 at $29.72 per barrel.
Healthcare stocks rose in Europe on the back of better-than-expected quarterly results from Denmark’s Novo Nordisk and German dialysis specialist Fresenius Medical Care.
“Earnings season is not great, but it’s really the issue of the virus and the end of the lockdown, and sentiment towards that will push the market,” said Francois Savary, chief investment officer at Swiss wealth manager Prime Partners.
China opened for the first time since Thursday, following a week-long holiday, and reversed early losses, sending its blue-chip index up 0.6%.
In a move seen by analysts as offering a olive branch to Washington amid bilateral trade tensions, China’s central bank set the yuan at a broadly neutral midpoint. The exchange rate has been a contentious point in China-U.S. ties.
Yields on longer-dated U.S. government debt jumped to three-week highs and the yield curve steepened after the Treasury Department sharply increased the size of its auctions as it grapples with financing a rapidly expanding deficit.
The department said it expects to borrow $2.999 trillion during the April-June quarter, five times more than the previous single-quarter record set during the 2008 financial crisis.
Benchmark 10-year Treasury notes fell 16/32 in price to yield 0.7062%.
U.S. gold futures settled 1.3% lower at $1,688.50 an ounce.