Global stocks wobble after Mnuchin pulls plug on US stimulus

Asian shares staged a mixed open and futures for the S&P 500 fell 0.66 per cent, erasing the firmer lead from a strong Wall Street session overnight. — Reuters pic
Asian shares staged a mixed open and futures for the S&P 500 fell 0.66 per cent, erasing the firmer lead from a strong Wall Street session overnight. — Reuters pic

NEW YORK, Nov 20 ― Global stocks came under pressure today after US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin called for an end to pandemic relief for struggling businesses, sparking a rare clash between the central bank and Treasury and weighing on sentiment.

Asian shares staged a mixed open and futures for the S&P 500 fell 0.66 per cent, erasing the firmer lead from a strong Wall Street session overnight.

US markets had previously rallied after Senate Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had agreed to revive talks to craft a new fiscal relief package.

However, that sentiment faded after Treasury Secretary Mnuchin later asked the Federal Reserve to return money earmarked under the March pandemic relief act for emergency lending to businesses, nonprofits and local governments.

That would mark an end on December 31 to most of the crisis-response programmes the Fed deemed vital to keeping the economy stable.

“The White House wants to pull the unused portions back so Congress can spend the money elsewhere, while the Fed is pushing back,” said Stephen Innes, Global chief market strategist at axi. “Indeed, this does not help the push-pull tug of war around short-term versus long-term markets narrative at a time when it important that all levels of government, including the Fed, at least put up the pretense of a unified front.”

Australia's S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.44 per cent in early trading, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng index futures rose 0.22 per cent. Japan's Nikkei opened 0.6 per cent lower.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.11 per cent.

Investor sentiment was also tinged by data that showed Covid-19 hospitalisations across the US jumped by nearly 50 per cent in the last two weeks, threatening the recovery of the world's largest economy as cities and states began to impose lockdowns.

“A meaningful stimulus package will aid small companies, the underlying economy, as well as the unemployed and people most at need,” said Thomas Hayes, chairman of Great Hill Capital in New York. “And there might be less of an inclination for cities to shut down.”

Nearly 79,000 people were being treated for Covid-19 infections in US hospitals yesterday, a Reuters tally showed, the most at any time during the pandemic. The surge in cases has weighed on investors as the United States recorded 161,607 new daily cases on a seven-day rolling average as of Wednesday.

All three major stock indexes, however, got a healthy boost after Schumer said he had agreed with McConnell to allow their staff to begin meetings for “a real good Covid relief Bill.”

A senior Democratic aide told Reuters there had been a mid-afternoon meeting on Thursday among congressional aides that discussed coronavirus relief and efforts to pass a US$1.4 trillion (RM5.72 trillion) Bill to keep government agencies operating beyond December 11 when current funding expires.

Of the 11 major sectors in the S&P 500, energy and tech shares gained the most, while utilities and healthcare were the only losers in percentage terms.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.15 per cent, the S&P 500 gained 0.39 per cent and the Nasdaq Composite added 0.87 per cent.

US Treasury yields slipped on the news of Mnuchin's letter to Fed Chair Jerome Powell, which came out after Wall Street closed. The yield on the benchmark 10-year note was last at 0.842 per cent. US stock futures also fell 0.84 per cent when trading resumed.

Oil prices reversed losses and edged higher in after-market trade, after Brent settled down 0.3 per cent at US$44.20 per barrel with US crude 0.2 per cent lower at US$41.70. ― Reuters

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