Global stocks fall on nerves over inflation outlook

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Global stocks sank and commodities rallied as concerns over the inflation outlook continued to undermine investor confidence.

The blue-chip S&P 500 index was down 0.3 per cent in the afternoon in New York while the technology-focused Nasdaq Composite lost 1.6 per cent.

A sell-off in US government bonds — whose returns are eroded by inflation — picked up again after taking a breather earlier in the day. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which moves inversely to price, was up 0.03 per cent, at 1.37 per cent, by the afternoon in New York.

Overnight, the yield on the benchmark note had come just shy of 1.4 per cent, before retreating to 1.33 per cent in the morning.

The 10-year yield started the year just above 0.9 per cent, but has risen consistently with predictions that US president Joe Biden’s proposed $1.9tn fiscal stimulus package will feed through to faster price rises.

“The main concern is related to the prospect of increased inflation,” said Tancredi Cordero, chief executive at the advisory firm Kuros Associates. “There’s a lot of concern amongst investors in fixed income and businesses that are sensitive to that.”

Such worries hit Asian markets on Monday, where Japan’s 10-year government bonds rose 0.01 percentage points to 0.13 per cent, while in Australia its 10-year yield hit 1.61 per cent, its highest level since June 2019.

“The rise in global yields is a reflection of improved growth prospects given encouraging vaccine progress and in the US forthcoming sizeable fiscal stimulus,” said Gurpreet Gill, macro strategist at Goldman Sachs Asset Management.

[It] also signals higher inflation expectations and in turn pulled forward expectations for the timing of monetary policy normalisation.”

The big question is whether rising inflation will push the Federal Reserve away from its path of ultra-loose monetary policy. Investors will watch closely Jay Powell’s semi-annual testimony to the Senate banking and House of Representatives financial services committees on Tuesday and Wednesday to see if the Fed chairman provides clues as to the direction the US central bank will take.

These would be “important events”, said Jim Reid, research strategist at Deutsche Bank.

In Europe, the region-wide Stoxx 600 closed down 0.4 per cent on Monday following three consecutive weekly gains. London’s FTSE 100 benchmark fell 0.1 per cent while Frankfurt Xetra’s Dax was down 0.3 per cent.

Oil prices continued to rally, meanwhile, on hopes of growing demand for fuel as the global economy reopened following the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines. Crude was also viewed by some investors as a hedge against inflation.

Brent crude, the international benchmark, rose 3.6 per cent to $65.15 a barrel, while West Texas Intermediate, the US marker, added 3.8 per cent to $61.49 a barrel.

Copper gained as much as 3.7 per cent to hit a 10-year high of almost $9,300 a tonne in early trading on Monday, driven by reports that China’s largest copper smelter was reducing output. The price later eased to about $8,985 a tonne.

Elsewhere, nickel moved above $20,000 a tonne for the first time since 2015 following a deadly accident over the weekend at a processing plant owned by Nornickel, the world’s biggest producer of the metal. Like copper, nickel pared early gains and was trading at about $19,330 a tonne by the afternoon.

Alastair Munro at brokerage Marex Spectron said industrial metals had also been boosted by the first official statements of 2021 regarding China’s economy.

Articles in Xinhua and other official news outlets discussed strengthening rural infrastructure and modernising agricultural production methods to spur consumption, he said. Such signs of significant growth plans “look set to be a new driver of China’s economy over the next few years”, he added.

In Asia, China’s CSI 300 index fell 3.1 per cent, its biggest one-day drop since last summer, as concerns grew of a gradual tightening in lending conditions. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng lost 1.1 per cent and South Korea’s Kospi 200 dropped 0.9 per cent. Japan’s Topix gained 0.5 per cent.

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