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Markets Mixed as Toughest Quarter Since 2008 Draws to a Close

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03/31/2020 | 03:41am EDT

By Joanne Chiu

U.S. stock-index futures inched down, and equity markets in the Asia-Pacific region were mixed, while oil prices crept higher after registering fresh multiyear lows.

With trading under way for the last day of March, global stocks were poised to close out their worst quarter since the depths of the global financial crisis, with the coronavirus pandemic chilling economic activity and rattling investor confidence.

European markets opened higher Tuesday. The pan-continental Stoxx Europe 600 rose 1.6%, while other major regional benchmarks also climbed: the German Dax rose 1.9% and the French CAC 40 rose 1.7%.

Yields on European sovereign bonds also mainly climbed in what some analysts said was a sign of easing pressures on financial market conditions following policy interventions from central banks and governments.

The German 10-year benchmark bund rose to negative 0.487% Tuesday from negative 0.538%.

S&P 500 futures fell 0.2% in afternoon trading Tuesday in Hong Kong, reversing earlier gains. The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note, a security that is seen as a haven, rose to 0.685%, according to Tradeweb, from 0.667% Monday. Yields move in the opposite direction of prices.

Some regional markets rallied. New Zealand rose more than 2% while South Korea's Kospi Composite gained 1.5%. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index advanced around 0.7%.

Elsewhere, performance was weaker. China's Shanghai Composite was little changed, Japan's Nikkei 225 shed 0.9% and Australia's benchmark index erased earlier gains to close 2.2% lower.

Tai Hui, chief market strategist for Asia Pacific at J.P. Morgan Asset Management, said many investors were in a wait-and-see mode, as the U.S., Europe and many Asian countries have rolled out very sizable fiscal stimulus packages. "Whether we need more depends on whether the pandemic will force a longer period of social distancing and lockdown,' he said.

The decline in Sydney helped the S&P/ASX 200 conclude its worst-ever quarter, FactSet data showed, dropping more than 24%. The Nikkei 225 and the Kospi, which both lost about 20% in January through March, recorded their worst quarterly performance since 2008.

Gauges of business activity showed factories, service industries and construction rebounded in China in March. The official manufacturing purchasing managers index rose to 52.0 in March, up from a record low of 35.7 in February, and slightly ahead of consensus forecasts. The 50 mark separates expansion from contraction.

However, China's statistics bureau said the reading only reflects work resumption from February and it doesn't mean economic activity has returned to normal. The equivalent measure for nonmanufacturing industries rose to 52.3.

"The challenge has shifted from supply chains and domestic demand to external demand as the U.S. and Europe are going through probably their deepest contraction in history in the next few months," said Mr. Hui. "That is going to have a knock-on effect on Chinese exports."

The Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 both rose more than 3% on Monday, with news on progress of medical measures to combat the novel coronavirus helping lift some stocks. Abbott Laboratories said U.S. authorities had approved an emergency-use coronavirus test, while Johnson & Johnson said it had made progress on a vaccine to prevent Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.

West Texas Intermediate, the main U.S. crude gauge, rebounded more than 6.5% to $21.39 a barrel, after it settled at an 18-year low Monday. Brent crude, the global oil benchmark, rose 2.9% to $27.19 a barrel.

The WSJ Dollar Index, which tracks the greenback against 16 other currencies, was little changed at 93.82. It has declined about 2.6% in the last five days as a surge in demand for dollars has abated.

Write to Joanne Chiu at joanne.chiu@wsj.com


Stocks mentioned in the article
ChangeLast1st jan.
ASX LIMITED -0.46% 88.18 End-of-day quote.12.46%
CAC 40 -1.59% 4695.44 Real-time Quote.-20.19%
DAX -1.65% 11586.85 Delayed Quote.-11.08%
DJ INDUSTRIAL 0.16% 25431.01 Delayed Quote.-10.48%
EURO / US DOLLAR (EUR/USD) 0.19% 1.10995 Delayed Quote.-1.74%
HANG SENG -0.60% 22977.4 Real-time Quote.-18.00%
KOSPI COMPOSITE INDEX 0.29% 2038.37 Real-time Quote.-7.57%
NASDAQ 100 1.07% 9514.393643 Delayed Quote.7.83%
NASDAQ COMP. 0.91% 9451.547796 Delayed Quote.4.42%
NIKKEI 225 -0.18% 21877.89 Real-time Quote.-7.36%
S&P 500 0.36% 3039.57 Delayed Quote.-6.22%
S&P/ASX 200 -1.63% 5755.7 Real-time Quote.-12.46%
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