London stocks sank on Friday after United States President Donald Trump lashed out at China over the coronavirus crisis, bringing back bad memories of a damaging standoff between both countries over trade.
Wall Street stocks also opened sharply lower Friday due to weakness in Amazon and Apple shares following earnings reports and tensions over blame for the coronavirus pandemic between China and the U.S.
About 20 minutes into trading, the Dow Jones Industrial Average stood at 23,900.59, down 1.8%. The broad-based S&P 500 shed 1.9% to 2,856.13, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index also dropped 1.9% to 8,712.53.
Investor nerves were tested further by a weak bottom line for Amazon even after the retail giant's revenues received a boost from online shopping under lockdown.
"Global markets continue to languish in what Amazon highlighted, is that top-line growth is not translating into profit growth," said Stephen Innes, chief global market strategist at AxiCorp.
Fellow tech giant Apple, reporting quarterly results, painted a similar picture of rising revenues but slipping profits.
Investors all over the world were spooked by comments from Trump indicating he could hit China with additional tariffs over its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, claiming he had seen evidence linking a Wuhan lab to the contagion.
"Trump sharpening his rhetoric against China is unnerving investors, as his team look into retaliatory measures over the coronavirus outbreak," said City Index analyst Fiona Cincotta.
"The China trade war seems like an eternity ago after coronavirus has dominated market movements with such intensity over recent weeks."
"However, threats of more tariffs from Trump have hit a nerve with the markets and is adding to the downbeat sentiment heading into the weekend," she added.
Investors in Britain took their cue from earlier losses in Tokyo and Sydney in Asia, where most bourses were also closed.
The British capital's FTSE 100 index had already tanked Thursday on mounting evidence that COVID-19 was slamming the global economy and investors "reacted to some stinky data from Europe and the U.S.," in the words of Markets.com analyst Neil Wilson.
Sentiment was also hit after Spain said Friday that its gross domestic product (GDP) was projected to fall by 9.2% in 2020 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, while the unemployment rate would reach 19%.
The gloomy forecast compared with 2 percent growth recorded last year.
However, the Spanish stock market remains shut for the long weekend.
In Asia and the Pacific, Japanese and Australian stocks tumbled Friday, with traders tracking Thursday's sell-off on Wall Street, and Tokyo was down nearly 3% at the close.
Australia's S&P/ASX 200 plunged 5% to 5,245.90 with heavy losses in miners and banks. A measure of Australian manufacturing showed activity contracting at its worst pace since 2009. That, coupled with news overnight that millions more Americans applied for unemployment benefits in April, darkened the mood after a relatively strong April.
Signs of growing tensions with China, Australia's biggest trading partner, added to the jitters. The two governments are at odds over calls for an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus, with China warning of possible repercussions for imports from the resource-rich country.
Japan's Nikkei 225 index slipped 2.8% to 19,619.35 as the economy minister, who is heading the government's coronavirus efforts, said social distancing measures needed to be kept in place to help prevent a resurgence of infections.
"If we relax the measures with insufficient decrease, infections will immediately bounce back and our effort so far will entirely go to waste,” said the minister, Yasutoshi Nishimura. "The experts recommended that the current measures should be kept in place.”
The sell-off comes at the end of an otherwise bright week for equities fueled by signs that coronavirus infections and deaths are easing around the world while governments begin easing lockdown restrictions that have strangled their economies.
Oil prices rose as the latest production cut agreement between OPEC and others went into force.
There was also some support from Norway, western Europe's biggest oil producer, saying Wednesday it will cut oil production to the end of the year to help stabilize slumping prices hit by a supply glut and a collapse in demand sparked by the coronavirus pandemic.
The U.S. jobless figures brought the total of people filing for unemployment to 30 million in just six weeks. Other data showed consumer spending plunged a record 7.5% in March from the month before, a dire blow for an economy where such spending makes up 70% of the total.
"Maybe it was the whole month-end malaise, or maybe they just need to hear something new and impactful, and that we’re ultimately seeing buying fatigue," Chris Weston of Pepperstone said in a commentary.
Promises from the Federal Reserve and other central banks to do whatever it takes to get economies through the coronavirus crisis have supported buying by investors betting that a recovery will come soon. Professional investors say that optimism may be premature.
The yield on the 10-year Treasury edged down to 0.61% from 0.63% late Thursday. It started the year close to 1.90%. Treasury yields tend to fall when investors are downgrading their expectations for the economy and inflation.
With world travelers still mostly grounded by pandemic precautions, each day brings fresh shocks from the crisis.
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