World stocks stay high, Russia’s rouble buckles under sanctions stress

The German share price index DAX graph is pictured at the stock exchange in Frankfurt, Germany, November 28, 2018. REUTERS/Staff

LONDON (Reuters) – World stocks were on course to extend a five-day run of record highs on Thursday, while Bitcoin took a breather after its latest surge and Russia’s markets tumbled at the prospect of the harshest U.S. sanctions in years.

For traders, it was hard keeping up. Europe’s STOXX 600 opened with a new all-time high as a flurry of positive earnings offset growing worries about a third wave of COVID infections on the continent.

The U.S. dollar was at a four-week low ahead of March retail sales data with investors increasingly convinced that U.S. interest rates will stay low, whereas in Europe a deluge of debt issuance lifted German bond yields to four-week highs.

For those following markets elsewhere it was even more hectic. Turkey was waiting for its first central bank meeting under its new governor after the last one was sacked after hiking interest rates last month.

The Russian rouble had already fallen as much as 2% on reports the United States would announce sanctions later for alleged interference in U.S. elections and malicious cyber activity.

They were set to target both individuals and entities and could also include aggressive new measures targeting the country’s sovereign debt, according to one source who spoke to Reuters.

“There has been a bit of whiplash for the rouble.” Saxo Bank’s head of FX strategy John Hardy said. “Earlier in the week it looked like the U.S. was making overtures about a (Biden-Putin) summit and now it looks like they are going to slap on sanctions.”

Graphic: Russia and Ukraine risk gauges have been rising

Reuters Graphic

Wall Street futures were pointing higher after a mixed finish on Wednesday despite gains for bulge-bracket banks like Goldman Sachs and Wells Fargo as they got U.S. earnings season off to a good start.

The mood had been subdued in Asia overnight where the Nikkei ended little changed and Hong Kong and China’s main bourses finished 0.5%-0.6% in the red.

JPMorgan Asset Management said in a note it was trimming its overall emerging markets exposure once again “mostly driven by a less sanguine outlook on EM Asia.”

“China has now recovered enough that policymakers can afford to be more conservative and worry more about containing debt and property market risks,” its global multi-asset strategist Patrik Schowitz wrote in a note.

The bank had already recommended selling EM currencies earlier in the week.

There were no such worries for the cryptocurrencies. Despite a bumpy IPO for crypto firm Coinbase, the world’s biggest and best-known Bitcoin was just shy of its record high at $62,614 having now doubled in value this year.

Back in the bond markets, 10-year U.S. bond yields eased to 1.6165% in European trade, down from a 14-month peak of 1.776% reached in late March, reducing the dollar’s yield attraction.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell said on Wednesday that the U.S. central bank would reduce its monthly bond purchases “well before” it raised interest rates.

“Risk sentiment is improving,” dragging on bond yields and the dollar, said Osamu Takashima, chief currency strategist at Citigroup Global Markets Japan.

Against the Japanese yen, the dollar slipped for a fourth day to 108.90. The euro was flat at $1.1977 as was sterling at $1.3776.

The Australian dollar hovered near three-week highs at $0.7716 after posting its biggest one-day percentage gain since Feb. 19 on Wednesday. Its New Zealand peer was upbeat at $0.7147, a level not seen since March 23.

In commodities, oil held near one-month highs after climbing nearly 5% on Wednesday as the International Energy Agency (IEA) said there were signs the massive overhang in global oil inventories was now being “worked off”.

Brent crude was up 2 cents at $66.60 a barrel. U.S. crude slipped 5 cents to $63.1. Gold was 0.4% higher at $1,741.8 an ounce.

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