Oil and shares slide as sanctions, virus fears strike

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FILE PHOTO: A worker holds a nozzle to pump petrol into a vehicle at a fuel station in Mumbai, India, May 21, 2018. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas/File Photo

LONDON/HONG KONG (Reuters) – Oil prices slumped and shares slipped from a one-year peak on Tuesday as a wave of coronavirus infections, a fresh lockdown in Germany, and U.S. and European sanctions over China combined to curb risk appetite worldwide.

Brent crude futures dropped by $2.59, or 4%, to $62.03 a barrel by 1225 GMT and U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures likewise slid 4% on concerns that new pandemic curbs and slow vaccine rollouts in Europe will hold back a recovery in demand.

Energy stocks were also hit, with Chevron Corp, Occidental Petroleum Corp and Exxon Mobil Corp shedding between 1.5% and 3.5% pre-market, while travel-related stocks also fell as much as 4%.

The STOXX index of 600 European shares slipped 0.4%, while the benchmark 10-year German government bond yield dropped 4 basis points to -0.351%, its lowest in a week, and gold inched up as investors sought safer assets.

U.S. stock index futures slid ahead of Congressional testimony by Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen later in the day that may shed light on the pace of economic rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In remarks prepared for delivery to the hearing on Tuesday morning, Powell said the U.S. economic recovery had progressed “more quickly than generally expected”.

The congressional hearings begin at 12 p.m. ET (1600 GMT).

“The FOMC last week laid out pretty clearly what the Fed’s view is with regard to rates … the next thing that markets will focus on is maybe getting some details from Yellen with regard to further infrastructure investment,” said Alex Wolf, head of investment strategy for Asia at J.P. Morgan Private Bank, referring to a statement from the Federal Open Market Committee.

MIXED MOOD

A mixed bag of new Western sanctions on China, coronavirus concerns and Turkish tumult after President Tayyip Erdogan’s shock sacking of the central bank chief at the weekend left investors awaiting a firmer signal.

The Turkish lira appeared to find a floor after Monday’s historic 7.5% slump, rising as much as 1% in volatile trading to 7.8742 against the dollar by 1234 GMT.

In Asia, MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan dropped 0.66%, hurt by a 0.95% fall in Chinese blue chips as a fresh wave of U.S. and European sanctions over human rights abuses in Xinjiang hit.

The sanctions on China prompted an immediate riposte from Beijing against the EU that appeared broader, including European lawmakers, diplomats, institutes and families.

Adding to market jitters were further worries over the efficacy of the AstraZeneca Plc vaccine developed with Oxford University after a U.S. health agency said the drugmaker may have included outdated information in its data.

SUMMER CANCELLED?

The fall in oil prices, travel and energy-related stocks was spearheaded by news Germany had extended its lockdown until April 18, reversing plans for a gradual reopening of the economy agreed earlier this month.

“Global travel is still looking like it could be a while away,” said Matt Stanley, a fuel broker at Star Fuels in Dubai, adding that a second-half recovery in oil demand looked doubtful as lockdowns remain the order of the day.

Benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury notes last yielded 1.6523%, down from 1.732% late on Friday.

The dollar gained slightly against a basket of six major currencies, last trading at 92.1, having slipped 0.32% on Monday, while making advances against the kiwi, Aussie and sterling.

Spot gold rose slightly to $1,740 per ounce by 1239 GMT, buoyed by easing U.S. Treasury yields.

The New Zealand dollar hit a three-month low after the government introduced taxes to curb housing speculation, a move investors reckoned could allow the central bank to hold low interest rates for longer with less risk of a property bubble.

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