Stock markets rise, US oil price sinks below $19

Associated Press

Energy prices remained subdued as investors appeared skeptical that a global deal to reduce oversupply will provide a long-term solution as demand crumbles during the pandemic lockdowns

ELAINE KURTENBACH 
Associated Press

BANGKOK (AP) — Global stock markets rose on Friday as more governments planned for a phased reopening of parts of their economies, while the U.S. benchmark for oil continued to slide, falling below $19 a barrel. 

Markets held up after the news that China's economy contracted 6.8 precent in the last quarter from a year earlier as the country battled the coronavirus. It is the worst downturn since 1979 but better than some analysts had feared.

Sentiment was lifted also by news of White House guidelines outlining a phased approach to reopening businesses, schools and other areas of life.

Some optimistic investors are focusing on the massive aid for the economy promised by the Federal Reserve and the U.S government. They also point to recent signs that the outbreak may be leveling off in some of the world's hardest-hit areas.

In European trading, the CAC 40 in Paris jumped 4.2 percent to 4,532 while Germany's DAX climbed 4 percent to 10,717. Britain's FTSE 100 added 3.5 percent to 5,822.

Wall Street looked set to rise on the open, with Dow futures up 3.3 percent and those for the S&P 500 rising 3 percent.

"The March data add to broader signs that China's economy is past the worst. But the recovery will probably continue to underwhelm," analyst Julian Evans-Pritchard of Capital Economics said in a commentary. He added that after an initial bounce as factories reopened, "the recovery in activity has since slowed to a crawl." 

Japan's Nikkei 225 index jumped 3.2 percent to 19,897.26 as the country awaited an announcement by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on expanding a national emergency to combat the coronavirus to the entire nation. He earlier only included Tokyo and several other worst affected areas. 

Infections have continued to climb, surging past 10,000 if the number sickened on a cruise ship off the coast in February are included, and worries are growing that the nation's health systems won't be able to cope. 

The government is planning to sweeten a renewed and expanded request for people to stay home, which is strictly voluntary, with cash payments of 100,000 yen ($930). 

In other trading, the Hang Seng in Hong Kong advanced 1.6 percent to 24,380.00. The Shanghai Composite index gained 0.7 percent to 2,838.49, while Australia's S&P ASX 200 rose 1.3 percent to 5,487.50. South Korea's Kospi surged 3.1 percent to 1,914.53 despite the release of data showing the country lost 195,000 jobs in March from a year earlier, ending a decade-long run in payroll gains.

India's Sensex climbed 1.7 percent to 31,119.74 after the central bank cut its benchmark interest rate by 25 basis points, to 3.75 percent from 4 percent, to help the stalled economy and ease financing troubles amid a nationwide lockdown to fight the pandemic. 

"Human spirit is ignited by the resolve to curb the pandemic. It is during our darkest moments that we must focus on the light," said Reserve Bank of India Gov. Shaktikanta Das.

Overnight, the S&P 500 rose 0.6 percent after flipping between small gains and losses following a government report that 5.2 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week. That brought the total for the last month to roughly 22 million. 

But even in this new stay-at-home, increasingly jobless economy, some businesses are making out as clear winners, and gains for Amazon, health care companies and stocks in other pockets of the market kept the rally on track. Companies like Dollar General, Walmart and Netflix have seen gains as people stuck at home stock up on stables. 

The dueling sentiments have helped the S&P 500 nearly halve its loss since falling from its record high in mid-February. Stocks were down by nearly 34 percent in late March, but a recent rally has trimmed the loss to roughly 17 percent.

Treasury yields remain extremely low, though, reflecting pessimism over the economic outlook. 

The yield on the 10-year Treasury was at 0.64 percent after falling to 0.60 percent on Thursday. Yields fall when bond prices rise, and investors tend to bid up Treasurys when they're worried about the economy.

Energy prices remained subdued as investors appeared skeptical that a global deal to reduce oversupply will provide a long-term solution as demand crumbles during the pandemic lockdowns.

The rollover of the future contract for benchmark U.S. crude oil, from May to June delivery, brought a sharp technical dip in the price, which sank as much as 8.5 percent.

Soon before the U.S. trading day, it was down $1.52 at $18.35 per barrel, its lowest level since 2002. Brent crude, the international standard, picked up 56 cents to $28.38 per barrel.

Demand for oil has plunged as countries close down industries and halt travel to contain the spread of the coronavirus. An agreement among oil producers on cutting output that was reached earlier this week helped calm recent volatility in the market. But it was not seen as adequate given the glut of oil developing as output outstrips demand and threatens to overwhelm storage capacity. 

The dollar fetched 107.76 Japanese yen, down from 107.92 on Thursday. The euro slipped to $1.08237 from $1.0839. 

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