Asian stocks clung to gains on Wednesday, helped by a bounce in Australian shares, but risks for equities remain large as the coronavirus pandemic rattles the underpinnings of the global economy.
E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 traded 1.39% lower in Asian trade, highlighting the cautious mood.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.23%. Australian shares jumped by 2.87%, reversing a 2% decline on Tuesday, as a slowdown in new coronavirus cases and rising iron ore prices lifted the market.
Shares in China, where the coronavirus first emerged late last year, rose 0.18%, supported by hopes the world’s second-largest economy has started to recover.
China’s factory activity improved in March after plunging a month earlier, a private survey showed on Wednesday, just scraping into positive territory and beating analysts’ expectations.
Shares in South Korea, also hit hard by the virus, rose 0.19%, but Japanese shares fell 1.05% as a rapid increase in coronavirus infections in Tokyo fueled speculation the government will place the capital on lockdown.
Wall Street tumbled on Tuesday, with the Dow registering its biggest quarterly fall since 1987 and the S&P 500 its steepest quarterly drop since a decade ago on growing evidence of the massive downturn the pandemic will incur.
MSCI’s gauge of stocks across the globe was little changed. The index fell nearly 22% for the quarter.
The number of coronavirus infections globally headed toward 800,000. Deutsche Bank analysts noted, however, that for two consecutive days the global growth in new cases was below 10%, having exceeded that rate for most of the past two weeks.
Health officials were much more cautious. A World Health Organization official warned that even in the Asia-Pacific region, the epidemic was “far from over.”
The dollar bounced in Asia, rising 0.28% to 107.86 yen and gaining 0.36% to $1.2375 per British pound as investors adjusted positions before the release of U.S. manufacturing data.
The dollar fell broadly on Tuesday after the U.S. Federal Reserve said it will allow foreign central banks to exchange their holdings of U.S. Treasury securities for overnight dollar loans to ease a dollar funding crunch.
The yield on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note eased slightly to 0.6554%.
U.S. crude held steady at $20.49 a barrel, but Brent crude fell 2.09% to $25.80 per barrel as the United States, Russia, and Saudi Arabia jostle over a massive oversupply of oil.
Crude oil benchmarks ended a volatile quarter with their biggest losses in history, with both U.S. and Brent futures hammered throughout March due to the pandemic and the eruption of a Saudi-Russia price war.
Global fuel demand has been cut sharply by travel restrictions due to the coronavirus. Forecasters at major merchants and banks see demand slumping by 20% to 30% in April, and for weak consumption to linger for months.