European shares knocked lower by China concerns, ECB in focus

LONDON (Reuters) – European shares fell on Thursday after deteriorating U.S.-China relations and worse-than-expected Chinese domestic consumption data hurt Asian stocks and global risk appetite.

The White House said on Wednesday it had not ruled out further sanctions on top Chinese officials to punish China for its handling of Hong Kong.

The United States also said it was studying the national security risks of social media applications including China’s TikTok and WeChat.

China said it will respond to “bullying” tactics from Washington, but that it will stick to the Phase 1 trade deal the countries reached last year.

With market attention turning towards the European Central Bank’s policy meeting, Europe’s STOXX 600 was down 0.7% at 1045 GMT, having fallen sharply in early trading before recovering slightly.

The index closed at a five-week high in the previous session, boosted by signs of progress in COVID-19 vaccine trials.

London’s FTSE 100 recouped some of its early-morning losses but was still down 0.5% on the day and the caution looked set to continue in the U.S. session with S&P 500 futures down 0.7%.

The MSCI world equity index, which tracks shares in 49 countries, was down 0.5%.

Although China’s GDP returned to growth in the second quarter, up 3.2%, retail sales data was worse than expected.

“We’re going to see a mechanical V-Shaped recovery without a doubt but it’s the economic effects, things like discretionary spending, that I think people’s concerns are centred around,” said Russell Silberston, investment strategist at Ninety One.

“The big concern that we have is the economic scarring – how much damage is being done,” he said.

In currency markets, the dollar index firmed, up 0.2% at 96.218.

The euro, which hit a four-month high of $1.1452 on Wednesday, edged back down, at $1.13945.

Oil prices eased after OPEC and allies such as Russia agreed to taper record supply curbs from August, though the drop was cushioned by hopes for a swift pick-up in U.S. demand after a big drawdown from the country’s crude stocks.

Brent crude fell 31 cents to $43.48 a barrel, and U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude was down 45 cents, at $40.75 a barrel.

Gold prices eased somewhat, down 0.3%, having spent the week edging up and coming close to a nine-year peak.

The International Monetary Fund’s top official warned on Wednesday that a second major wave of infections could trigger more economic disruption.

Rising COVID-19 cases have seen some countries re-impose lockdown measures, but the effect of new infections on daily market moves is not clear-cut. The more economies shut down, the more stimulus from central banks and governments markets expect.

“If cases are rising and we see more lockdowns then that uncertainty will almost definitely hit markets,” Ninety One’s Silberston said.

“But, big picture, markets have rallied massively from the lows on the basis of stimulus so there’s a counter-argument that says: Ok, if we do go into lockdown, we’ll see even more stimulus,” he said.

ALL EYES ON EU

In Europe, the focus is on the European Central Bank’s meeting. No new measures are expected to be announced, as the ECB has already bought record amounts of debt as part of its emergency response to COVID-19. (Graphic: The ECB’s QE programme, here)

“Though recent comments from ECB officials have shown signs of an emerging optimism, our economists don’t believe these signal a change in the policy stance, and expect the commitment to “substantial monetary policy stimulus” to be repeated,” Deutsche Bank strategist Jim Reid wrote to clients.

The ECB will deliver its decision at 1145 GMT, and ECB President Christine Lagarde will hold a news conference at 1230 GMT.

The ECB meeting is likely to be overshadowed by the European Union summit on Friday and Saturday, at which the proposed 750 billion euro ($854 billion) coronavirus recovery fund will be discussed.

Euro zone bond yields held broadly steady. The benchmark German 10-year Bund yield was at -0.455%.

(Graphic: Euro zone bond markets during the coronavirus crisis, here)

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