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Global stock markets tumble as $1.9tr US stimulus buzz fades

Stock market charts are seen during the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on February 28, 2020 at Wall Street in New York City. – Losses on Wall Street deepened following a bruising open, as global markets were poised to conclude their worst week since 2008 with another rout. (Photo by Johannes EISELE / AFP) (Photo by JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images)

Global shares stumbled on Friday as hopes of a fiscal boost from a $1.9 trillion US stimulus plan were smothered by the prospect of stricter lockdowns in France and Germany and a resurgence of COVID-19 cases in China.

European stocks followed Asian markets lower, with the pan-European STOXX 600 down 0.8% and London’s FTSE 100 0.8% weaker, with the latter clobbered by data showing Britain’s economy shrank in November for the first time since the initial COVID-19 lockdown last spring.

The MSCI world equity index, which tracks shares in 49 countries, was 0.3% lower. S&P 500 e-mini futures shed 0.3% to 3,779.

Earlier on Friday, an Asian regional share index had edged near record highs after US President-elect Joe Biden proposed a $1.9 trillion stimulus plan to jump-start the world’s largest economy and accelerate its response to the coronavirus.

In prime-time remarks on Thursday, Biden outlined a proposal that includes $415 billion aimed at the COVID-19 response, some $1 trillion in direct relief to households, and roughly $440 billion for small businesses and communities hard hit by the pandemic.

But that initial boost later faded as risk appetite waned, lifting bond prices and the dollar, and hitting equities.

“People are saying it’s a big number but markets are almost acting like its a disappointment,” said James Athey, investment director at Aberdeen Standard Investments.

“I think maybe the market was pricing an additional $2,000 cheque going to the U.S. population, but what’s being proposed is a top-up of $1,400 to take the total to $2,000 because $600 has already been agreed.”

Investors also digested the prospect of rising taxes to pay for the plan.

“The concern is what it’s going to mean from a tax stand point,” said Tim Ghriskey, chief investment strategist at Inverness Counsel in New York.

“Spending is easy to do but the question is how are you going to pay for it? Markets often ignore politics but they don’t often ignore taxes.”

Biden’s comments came after Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell struck a dovish tone in comments at a virtual symposium with Princeton University.

Powell said the US central bank is not raising interest rates anytime soon and rejected suggestions the Fed might start reducing its bond purchases in the near term.

Investor concerns over the prospects for a global economic recovery were raised after France strengthened its border controls and brought forward its night curfew by two hours to 6 pm for at least two weeks to try to slow the spread of infections.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for “very fast action” to counter the spread of variants of the coronavirus. Chinese blue chips eased 0.2%, snapping a four-week winning streak, after the country on Friday reported the highest number of new COVID-19 cases in more than 10 months.

Sentiment was also soured by a further strain in Sino-U.S. relations after the Trump administration imposed sanctions on officials and companies for alleged misdeeds in the South China Sea and an investment ban on nine more firms.

U.S. earnings season kicked into full swing with results from JPMorgan, Citigroup and Wells Fargo. JPMorgan Chase & Co reported a much better-than-expected 42% jump in fourth-quarter profit on Friday, driven by the release of some of the reserves it had built up against coronavirus-driven loan losses.

Investors will be looking to see if banks are starting to take down credit reserves, resume buybacks, and provide guidance that shows the economy is improving, said Thomas Hayes, chairman of Great Hill Capital in New York.

In the currency market, the US dollar rose.

The dollar index was at 90.407 versus a basket of currencies, up 0.2% on the day. It was on track for a weekly gain of around 0.4%, making this its strongest week since November. Wall Street’s main indexes were set to slip on Friday as incoming President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan sparked fears of an increase in taxes, while investors parsed quarterly reports from major U.S. lenders.

Shares of JPMorgan Chase & Co, Citigroup Inc and Wells Fargo & Co, which had seen a strong rally in the run-up to earnings, were all down even as the banks posted better-than-expected fourth-quarter profits.

JPMorgan fell 1.7% following a seven-day winning streak that had pushed the stock about 12% higher.

“The bank stocks have been running here for a couple of weeks now so a lot of good news has already been priced in,” said Dennis Dick, a trader at Bright Trading LLC in Las Vegas.

Wall Street’s main indexes are set to wrap up the week slightly lower after climbing to record highs recently, driven by growth-sensitive cyclical stocks on bets of a hefty fiscal package and optimism about vaccine distribution.

Against the stronger dollar, the euro was down 0.2% at $1.21325.

US yields stepped back as risk appetite waned. Benchmark 10-year Treasury notes yielded 1.1039%, down from a U.S. close of 1.129% on Thursday, while the 30-year yield dipped to 1.8451% from 1.874%.

In Europe, Italy’s bond market was poised to end the week calmer, as 10-year bond yields were down 2 basis points at 0.59%.

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