Stocks stumble on new growth fears

·4-min read

Stocks have fallen again and the US dollar has rocketed to a new two-decade high as worries about higher interest rates and a tightened lockdown in Shanghai deepened investor fears the global economy is in for a slowdown.

After a bruising session on Friday in which US stocks sold off sharply as another rise in long-dated US Treasury yields unnerved investors, markets were set for a rocky start to the week, with most indexes in the red.

Central banks in the United States, Britain and Australia all raised interest rates last week, and investors are bracing for more tightening as policymakers try to get on top of soaring inflation.

There was plenty more for investors to worry about on Monday aside from tightening financial conditions.

No let-up appeared in China's zero-COVID policy, with Shanghai tightening the city-wide lockdown for 25 million residents.

Speculation that Russian President Vladimir Putin might declare war on Ukraine in order to call up reserves during his speech at "Victory Day" celebrations also hurt market sentiment. Putin has so far characterised Russia's actions in Ukraine as a "special military operation", not a war.

Despite the sharp rise in rates, not all investors think a slowdown is imminent.

"We continue to believe investors should position for the reality of inflation now, rather than the chance of a recession soon," said UBS Global Wealth Management strategists.

Wall Street headed for another weaker open with the S&P 500 stock futures down 1 per cent, while Nasdaq futures shed 0.9 per cent. US 10-year bond yields reached a new 3-1/2 year high of 3.179 per cent.

The Euro STOXX weakened 0.56 per cent, while Germany's DAX lost 0.21 per cent.

MSCI's main emerging market stocks index fell to its lowest level since July 2020.

The MSCI World Index fell 0.5 per cent, leaving it not far from the 17-month intraday low reached on Friday.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell 1.27 per cent and Japan's Nikkei 2.53 per cent. Chinese blue chips eased 0.8 per cent, while in offshore markets the yuan fell to 6.765 per dollar, another 18-month low.

Investors are also tense ahead of the US consumer price report due on Wednesday. Only a slight easing in inflation is forecast, and certainly nothing to prevent the Federal Reserve from hiking by at least 50 basis points in June. Core prices are actually seen rising by 0.4 per cent in April, the monthly rate accelerating from 0.3 per cent in the previous month, even as the annual pace dips a bit due to base effects.

With investors juggling so many worries, one place they are looking for safety is in the dollar, which is soaring against most other currencies.

The dollar index, which measures the greenback against a basket of currencies, rose as much as 0.4 per cent to 104.19, the latest in a string of 20-year highs.

"Risk appetite is fragile and yield spreads continue to suggest further upside on the Dollar Index," said Sean Callow, a senior FX strategist at Westpac.

"We look for ongoing demand for DXY (the dollar index) on dips, with 104 already being probed and still potential for a run towards 107 multi-week."

The soaring dollar is hammering other currencies. The euro dropped back below $1.05 while the Japanese yen fell to its weakest since 2002.

Expectations that the Fed will move more aggressively in raising interest rates are supporting the dollar, as is a sense among investors that the US economy will hold up better than a euro zone hit hard by the fallout from the war in Ukraine.

But interest rates are also rising in the euro zone. On Monday, Germany's 10-year bond yield hit a new highest level since 2014, buoyed by hawkish policymaker Robert Holzmann saying on Saturday that the European Central Bank should raise interest rates three times this year to combat inflation.

The diary is full of Fed speakers this week, giving them plenty of opportunity to keep up the hawkish chorus.

Oil prices see-sawed after the Group of Seven nations committed on Sunday to banning or phasing out imports of Russian oil over time.

Brent was last quoted down 1.07 per cent at $111.21, while US crude dropped 1.16 per cent to $108.51.

Gold was down 0.7 per cent at $1,869 an ounce, having struggled recently to gain any traction as a safe haven.

(Reporting by Tommy Wilkes; Additional reporting by Wayne Cole in Sydney; Editing by Bradley Perrett)

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