LONDON: Shares around the world tumbled on Wednesday as coronavirus infections grew rapidly in Europe and the United States, igniting fears of possible strict lockdown measures that could damage already fragile economic recoveries.
European shares fell on reports of potential lockdowns in Germany and France, losing 2.5pc to hit five-month lows, rattled by a media report that France might bring in a national lockdown from midnight on Thursday.
The Paris index was among the hardest hit, losing 3.5pc to touch its lowest since May.
German shares slumped 3.2pc to their lowest since June, after a report Chancellor Angela Merkel wanted to close restaurants and bars to curb new infections.
In Europe, automakers and banks led the losses, falling 4.2pc and 3.9pc respectively.
Wall Street futures lost 1.3-1.6pc.
The United States, Russia, France and others have seen record numbers of infections in recent days, with European governments introducing new curbs that investors fear could maul the already fragile recoveries.
“The appetite of the different countries’ authorities to enforce new lockdowns – that’s the point of discrimination between good market performance and bad market performance,” said Alessia Berardi, senior economist at Amundi.
“The second wave is now clearly very strong in Europe.”
The MSCI world equity index, which tracks shares in 49 countries, fell 0.6pc.
Asian shares lost ground after initially showing some resilience, in part due to more limited COVID-19 outbreaks and better recoveries in the region’s major economies.
MSCI’s ex-Japan Asia index lost 0.1pc, turning negative even after China and South Korea made gains.
The concerns over the second wave of infections played out in currency and bond markets, too, with the euro slumping 0.4pc against the dollar. German government bond yields hit their lowest since March.
Wall Street saw a mixed day on Tuesday, with the S&P 500 losing 0.3pc but the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite climbing 0.6pc.
Apple Inc, Amazon.com, and Google-parent Alphabet report later this week, closely watched because they have been among the few winners from the pandemic.
US ELECTION UNCERTAINTY
Adding to the mood of uncertainty is the Nov 3 US presidential election.
Former Vice President Joe Biden has enjoyed a consistent lead over President Donald Trump, prompting investors to cautiously bet on his victory and possibly a “blue wave” outcome, where Democrats take back the Senate as well.
But Wall Street’s volatility index, a measure of market expectations in share price swings, rose to 36.60, its highest since early September.
That is a product of wariness that the election outcome itself could be contested, some market players say. An unclear result could leave expectations of a U.S. fiscal stimulus package to counter the coronavirus pandemic in limbo.
“It is not yet clear that we will have a winner at this time (next week) as many State Secretaries and voting commissions are hedging their bets that they will indeed be able to project the winner by next Wednesday morning,” Deutsche Bank analysts wrote.
The uncertainty was apparent in currency markets, too: One-week implied volatility indicators for the euro and the yen rose to their highest in nearly seven months.
The same measure of volatility for the Chinese yuan also spiked, hitting its highest since January 2016.
Against a basket of currencies, the dollar edged up 0.1pc.