January 31, 2020 / 3:31 PM / 2 months ago

Take Five: What's the virus damage?

(Reuters) - 1/SCHLOCK AND AWE IN CHINA

FILE PHOTO: People walk past an electronic display showing world markets indices outside a brokerage in Tokyo, Japan, January 8, 2020. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Financial markets have gone swiftly from nonchalance to awe in reacting to the fast-spreading 2019-nCoV or new coronavirus here

Global stocks have been roiled over the past week by headlines of cases and deaths, countries telling citizens not to travel or businesses shutting in China. On Monday, stocks in the world’s second largest economy got mauled when re-opening after an extended Lunar New Year holiday with China’s blue-chip index .CSI300 tumbling nearly 8% and the Shanghai Composite losing $420 billion of its value. China’s central bank said on Monday it will inject 1.2 trillion yuan ($174 billion) worth of liquidity into the markets via reverse repo operations. Eyes will be on policy makers to see what monetary - or other - support they might stump up.

The virus’s progression has been likened to a schlock science fiction movie, replete with conspiracy theories around symptomless transmission and super-spreaders. Some 60 million people at the center of the outbreak are living under virtual lockdown. A shock to China’s economy this quarter, which then reverberates through global supply chains, is a foregone conclusion. It’s just that no one can yet say how deep.

(GRAPHIC: China's GDP and markets - here.jpg)

2/THE VIRUS AND THE WORLD

The coronavirus’ repercussions are being felt far and wide, well beyond its starting point in China’s Hubei province. Countries reliant on Chinese demand have seen steep drops in their currencies, with the Australian dollar down around 5% in January, its worst month since 2016. The Thai and Korean currencies, exposed to China via tourism and goods exports respectively, are also taking a battering.

Growth forecast downgrades for China, the world’s No. 2 economy, are coming thick and fast, meaning estimates for other countries are being reworked too. Tellingly, ‘Dr’ Copper, the best-known gauge of economic health, is down 10% in little more than a week, and oil suffered a fourth week of losses. World stocks have lost $1.2 trillion over the past two weeks and have come under fresh pressure again at the start of the week. Depending on how the virus spreads from now, there could be more pain to come.

Selling may focus in particular on travel and leisure, with a European index of these sectors skidding to the lowest since October last week. The beneficiaries? The usual safe-haven plays: gold, for instance, has enjoyed its best month in five.

(GRAPHIC: Airline and hotel stocks slide on Coronavirus outbreak - here)

3/ARE EURO ZONE BANKS TURNING A CORNER?

Blowout performances by Wall Street banks, and bumper Q4 earnings from the Spanish lender Santander, have fed hopes of a strong season for euro zone banks, a raft of which will post results in coming days. How heavyweights such as BNP Paribas, Intesa and ING fared in the last quarter of 2019 will shed more light on how they are riding the wave of negative rates.

Troubled Deutsche Bank reported a major loss due to one-offs, but shares rose nonetheless as investors turned their focus on the bank’s turnaround potential. With higher interest rates still far off, banks are finding it challenging to grow. But after 20 straight months of downgrades, earnings estimates have started to stabilize.

The coronavirus scare, however, threatens to strangle Europe’s economic recovery and therefore any banking revival. An index of bank shares has fallen more than 5% so far this year, underperforming the broader euro benchmark.

(GRAPHIC: Banks' earnings - here.png)

4/ WORK AND PAY

Friday’s non-farm payroll data will show how the U.S. economy fared in the first month of the new decade. The report is expected to show a pickup from December, with a Reuters poll forecasting 156,000 were added, from 145,000 the month before. The previous decade hit a number of milestones. December’s report was the 111th monthly scorecard in a row to show employment gains, while the 3.5% unemployment rate matched a low from half a century ago and is roughly a third of the level at the start of the decade. Worries of a trade-war-induced slowdown have faded since the Federal Reserve delivered three rate cuts in 2019. Recent data has largely shown the U.S. economy continuing to expand at a moderate pace, and the Fed has signaled that its monetary policy stance is unlikely to change this year.

(GRAPHIC: U.S. Unemployment vs S&P index - here.jpg)

5/RETURN OF VOLMAGEDDON

When a slight U.S. inflation uptick pushed stock markets lower on Feb. 5 two years ago, few expected it to turn into one of the biggest Wall Street shake-ups in recent years. That episode — “Volmageddon” — saw the VIX equity volatility gauge triple overnight to 50%, wiping out hordes of small punters who had piled into so-called inverse-vol investments.

These strategies, peddled via exchange-traded products and designed to profit from extended spells of market calm, yielded rich pickings as long as volatility stayed low. But as the VIX exploded higher, vehicles such as the ProShares Short VIX ETF tumbled over 80 percent in a day.

As we were reminded two years ago, volatility can spike spectacularly in quiet markets. As it happens, the coronavirus has sent the VIX to three-month highs and ProShares ETF, which had climbed back to the highest level reached since Volmageddon, has fallen again. But volatility gauges for bonds and currencies remain well below historic averages. Investors might be wise to brace for reversals.

(GRAPHIC: euro-dollar vol - here)

Reporting by Vidya Ranganathan in Singapore; Ira Ira Iosebashvili and Megan Davies in New York; Thyagaraju Adinarayan, Tommy Wilkes and Sujata Rao in London, additional reporting by Karin Strohecker in London; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Toby Chopra

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