Asia shares under threat as futures fall early

Wayne Cole, Reuters

Posted at Mar 30 2020 07:49 AM

A stock broker works at Frankfurt's stock exchange as markets react on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at the stock exchange in Frankfurt, Germany, March 27, 2020. Kai Pfaffenbach, Reuters

SYDNEY -- Asian share markets looked set for a rocky start on Monday as US stock futures took an early spill amid fears the global shutdown for the coronavirus could last for months, doing untold harm to economies.

E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 skidded 1.7 percent right from the bell, while Nikkei futures pointed to an opening loss of around 500 points.

Central banks have mounted an all-out effort to bolster activity with rate cuts and massive asset-buying campaigns, which has at least eased liquidity strains in markets.

Canada's central bank on Friday surprised with an emergency rate cut to 0.25 percent and a program of quantitative easing, while New Zealand policy makers on Monday launched a loan program for corporates to meet liquidity needs.

Rodrigo Catril, a senior FX strategist at NAB, said the main question for markets was whether all the stimulus would be enough to help the global economy withstand the shock.

"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."

With that in mind, it was not encouraging that British authorities were warning lockdown measures could last months.

While President Donald Trump had talked about reopening the US economy for Easter, on Sunday he extended guidelines for social restrictions to April 30 and said the peak of the death count from the respiratory disease could be two weeks away.

Bond investors looked to be bracing for a long haul with yields at the very short end of the curve turning negative and those on 10-year notes dropping a steep 26 basis points last week to 0.67 percent.

Early on Monday, Treasury futures climbed anew and pointed to a fresh fall in yields.

That drop has combined with efforts by the Federal Reserve to pump more US dollars into markets, and dragged the currency off recent highs.

Indeed, the dollar suffered its biggest weekly decline in more than a decade last week.

Against the yen, the dollar was pinned at 107.80, well off the recent high at 111.71. The euro was firm at $1.1118 after rallying more than 4 percent last week.

The retreat in the dollar proved a fillip for gold, which was up 0.4 percent on Monday at $1,625.18 an ounce.

It has been little help for oil as Saudi Arabia and Russia show no signs of backing down in their price war.

Brent crude futures lost 89 cents to $24.04 a barrel, while U.S. crude fell 96 cents to $20.55.