LONDON (Reuters) -World shares struggled on Tuesday amid new COVID lockdowns in Europe and Senate runoff races in Georgia that could affect incoming U.S. President Joe Biden’s ability to pursue his preferred economic policies.
Wall Street was expected to extend its worst start to a year since 2016 [.N] and with volatility gauges up, the euro strong and Germany expected to follow Britain with a lockdown extension, European equities were under pressure. [.EU][/FRX]
The FTSEurofirst 300 fell 0.5% as London, Frankfurt, Paris and U.S. futures all dropped between 0.2%-0.8%, leaving MSCI’s main world index, which tracks nearly 50 countries, flat too. [.N]
Markets were also watching to see whether Tuesday’s Georgia run-off election enables the Democrats to flip both Senate seats and disrupt what markets have viewed as a delicate political balance in Washington following November’s election.
“The result could be quite crucial on how much leeway Biden has to push his own agenda,” said Wells Fargo Asset Management’s global head of multi-asset solutions, Matthias Scheiber.
Markets are likely to “move on” if the vote sees Republicans maintain control of the Senate, Scheiber said, whereas they could react to a Democrat win that would make additional fiscal stimulus, but also stiffer regulation for the energy and tech sectors, more likely.
“We could see quite a mixed market,” he said, adding that investors had also been increasingly looking to hedge their equity positions following the recent strong rally.
The currency markets were in focus again too as the dollar’s slide continued.
Overnight China raised its official yuan exchange rate by the biggest margin since abandoning its peg in 2005, which helped support demand for other currencies and kept MSCI’s emerging-market currency index near the record high it had hit on Monday. [EMRG/FRX]
In the international ‘offshore’ market, the yuan strengthened as far as 6.4419 for the first time since June 2018. It started the week at 6.4944 and has now surged more than 12% since May as China’s economy has rebounded and near-zero U.S. interest rates have cut the dollar’s appeal.
“It’s a very big move by any historical yardstick,” said Ray Attrill, head of FX strategy at National Australia Bank in Sydney. “And I don’t think you can ignore that.”
GEORGIA ON MARKETS’ MIND
The high-flying euro also rose 0.2% to $1.22765 after reaching as high as $1.231 on Monday.
The British pound also regained 0.2% to sit at $1.3573, having tumbled the previous day after a surge in COVID cases in the United Kingdom forced another nationwide lockdown until mid-February.
In Asia, MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan ended at a record high thanks to chunky gains in South Korean and Chinese stocks.
Japanese shares lost 0.4% as the country saw coronavirus infections hit record levels again.
In Hong Kong, China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom rallied by more than 6% after the New York Stock Exchange suddenly scrapped plans to de-list the companies’ shares following a U.S. executive order.
S&P 500, Nasdaq and Dow Jones stock futures were all fractionally lower ahead of their restart. [.N].
Both Georgia elections are tight and the results may not be immediately known, which could lead to a repeat of the chaotic vote re-counts after the U.S. presidential election in November.
Outgoing Republican President Donald Trump’s call to pressure Georgia’s top election official to “find” votes to overturn his loss to President-elect Biden in the state has also unnerved some investors.
“While a possible Democratic victory (in Georgia) could raise concerns about more regulation, at least over the coming months this might be outweighed by expectations of larger fiscal stimulus,” ING analysts wrote in a note.
In commodity markets, oil firmed as traders awaited a meeting later on Tuesday where major crude producers are set to decide output levels for February. [O/R]
Both Brent and U.S. crude futures were up 1.6% at $51.90 and $48.40 a barrel respectively. Gold also inched up 0.2% to $1,946 per ounce while cryptocurrency Bitcoin, which surged 300% last year, steadied at $31,500 after a sharp drop the previous day. [GOL/]
J.P.Morgan said in a research note that “speculative mania” could push Bitcoin to between $50k-$100k, though it added that such price levels “would prove unsustainable”.
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