Global stocks, oil stabilise after new year nightmare

An investor checks stock information on a computer screen at a brokerage house in Shanghai, China, January 8, 2016. REUTERS/Aly Song

Gains by Chinese stocks, a steadier yuan and a recovery in oil prices helped calm frazzled investors on Friday, just in time for the first U.S. payrolls report of the year.

China nudged the yuan higher for the first time in nine days, easing fears that it had lost control of the currency. Traders also cheered its decision to dump an unpopular stock market “circuit-breaker” system introduced this week, helping to restore a measure of risk appetite.

After a 10 percent-plus drop in Chinese equities, an equally dramatic slump in oil and major volatility in other markets, a 2 percent rise by Chinese shares helped Asia end higher for the first time in 2016. Europe followed suit, with the FTSE, DAX and CAC40 up 0.5 to 0.7 percent.

Nevertheless, the nightmare start to 2016 means Asian markets have seen their worst week since the euro zone crisis in 2011, and for Europe and the 46-country MSCI All World share index the worst in over four months.

“We’ve had a stabilisation in China overnight, but the question remains as to whether China’s economy is headed for a hard or soft landing,” said Richard McGuire, senior fixed income strategist at Rabobank.

There was also a sense of relief in commodities markets as oil prices pulled out of their tailspin, although few experts were willing to declare an end to the slump.

After reaching a 12-year low the previous session, Brent crude rose 53 cents to $34.28 a barrel by 0930 GMT, from an intraday high of $34.72. U.S. West Texas Intermediate was up 40 cents at $33.63 a barrel.

Industrial metals like copper, iron ore and zinc also rose after losses of 4 to 6 percent so far this week. Gold was one of several safe-haven assets to retreat.

It all came just in time for some of the most influential pieces of macroeconomic data for markets, the monthly U.S. non-farm payrolls figures.

The latest Reuters poll shows economists expect 200,000 jobs were added last month and the overall unemployment rate remained at a 7 1/2-year low of 5 percent.

A solid report could soothe fears over the economy’s health by showing recent weakness was largely restricted to manufacturers and exporters. Both have been hit by a strong dollar and anaemic global demand.

It will also be the first reading since the Federal Reserve raised U.S. interest rates last month for the first time in almost a decade.

Amid hopes for a solid payrolls number and relief over the steadying of the yuan, the dollar rose more than half a percent against both the euro to $1.0878 and yen to 118.34 yen on Friday.

The yen, the currency market’s safe-haven darling, has been one of the major beneficiaries of this week’s turbulence. It gained roughly 1.7 percent against the dollar and 1.5 percent versus the euro.

Friday’s reversal came after China’s central bank nudged the yuan/dollar rate up to 6.5636 per dollar. On Thursday, it reportedly had intervened to defend the yuan in offshore trade, reversing a decline of more than 1 percent that took it to a record low of 6.7600 per dollar.

The PBOC’s Friday setting is “a signal it does not intend to keep allowing the yuan to fall,” said Yoshinori Shigemi, global market strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management.

Elsewhere in Asia, Japan’s Nikkei surrendered earlier gains to end the day down 0.4 percent at its lowest closing price since Sept. 30. That extended losses for the week to 7 percent, the biggest weekly decline in four months.

In bond markets, yields on 10-year U.S. Treasuries fell to a 2 1/2-month low of 2.119 percent on Thursday and last stood at 2.17807 percent. German Bunds were steady at 0.539 after their yields fell this week as investors headed into safe assets.

“The fact that 10-year German yields are back at around 50 basis points shows there is a flight to quality,” said Martin van Vliet, senior rates strategist at ING.

Though much could depend on the 1330 GMT payrolls figures, Wall Street, which opens at 1430 GMT, was expected to see a small bounce after a five percent fall this week, one of its worst starts to a year on record.

After the U.S. market close on Thursday, two Apple suppliers added to growing worries about slowing shipments of the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus by cutting their revenue estimates for the third quarter.
(Additional reporting by Reporting by Dhara Ranasinghe in London, editing by Larry King)