World equity markets edge higher; oil plunges to 2002 lows

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Global equity benchmarks rose on Monday despite a drop in oil prices to their lowest levels since 2002, as central banks and the United States tried to contain damage from the rapidly spreading coronavirus that has upended the global economy.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday extended the government’s stay-at-home guidelines until the end of April, dropping a sharply criticized plan to get the economy up and running by mid-April after a top medical adviser said more than 100,000 Americans could die from the outbreak.

JPMorgan now predicts that global gross domestic product (GDP) – the total monetary value of all goods and services produced – could contract at a 10.5% annualized rate in the first half of the year. As a result, central banks have mounted an all-out effort to bolster activity with interest rate cuts and massive asset-buying campaigns, which have at least eased liquidity strains in markets.

China on Monday became the latest to add stimulus, with a cut of 20 basis points to a key reverse repo rate, the largest in nearly five years.

MSCI’s gauge of stocks across the globe gained 1.99% following broad gains in Europe and declines in Asia.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 690.7 points, or 3.19%, to 22,327.48, the S&P 500 gained 85.18 points, or 3.35%, to 2,626.65 and the Nasdaq Composite added 271.77 points, or 3.62%, to 7,774.15.

“The big picture from the get-go is that markets will calm down once they know the depth and duration of this pandemic,” said Clark Kendall, chief executive officer of Kendall Capital in Rockville, Maryland.

In oil markets, Brent futures were down 8%, or $2, at $22.50 a barrel – their lowest in 18 years. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures fell as far as $19.92, near a 2002 low hit this month. Oil futures have fallen by more than 68% from their early January highs.

“I have been in this business almost 30 years and this is the fastest correction I have seen,” Swiss private bank Lombard Odier’s chief investment officer, Stephane Monier, said of this year’s plunge in global markets.

Investors continued to seek the perceived safety of bonds, with bond yields falling in Europe and in the United States. Benchmark 10-year notes last rose 9/32 in price to yield 0.7154%, from 0.744% late on Friday.

The drop in yields has combined with efforts by the Federal Reserve to pump more U.S. dollars into markets, dragging the dollar off recent highs.

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Rodrigo Catril, a senior FX strategist at National Australia Bank (NAB), said the main question for markets was whether all the stimulus would be enough to help the global economy withstand the shock from the coronavirus pandemic.

“To answer this question, one needs to know the magnitude of the containment measures and for how long they will be implemented,” he added.

“This is the big unknown, and it suggests markets are likely to remain volatile until this uncertainty is resolved.”

Reporting by David Randall; editing by Jonathan Oatis, Nick Zieminski and Will Dunham

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