Global stocks wobbled Thursday as trading volumes slid ahead of the long Easter holiday weekend, while oil markets were buoyed by optimism that major crude producers including Russia may agree to cut output.
Futures tied to the Dow Jones Industrial Average drifted up 0.3%, following a 3.4% rally in the blue-chips gauge on Wednesday. The pan-continental Stoxx Europe 600 index edged up 0.5%.
U.S. crude futures rallied 5%, or by $1.28 a barrel, while Brent crude, the global benchmark for oil prices, gained almost 4%.
Speculation that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies were considering steep cuts to production gave U.S. energy stocks a boost on Wednesday. That optimism was boosted further by reports that Russia was mulling deeper cuts than traders had expected.
OPEC members and their allies, including Russia, are scheduled to hold a crucial videoconference later in the day. A Texas regulator also said the U.S. could reduce production by four million barrels of oil a day.
“If you get a cut in output, I don’t think necessarily you’re going to see oil prices back up to $70, but you won’t see oil prices go to single digits,” said Justin Onuekwusi, head of retail multiasset funds at Legal & General Investment Management. “You’re going to create a floor under the oil price and remove some of the uncertainty from markets overall.”
Investors are also looking ahead toward a gradual economic recovery in the second half of the year in the U.S., following a severe economic contraction and a spike in unemployment. Nearly 85% of the economists in a Wall Street Journal survey predicted annualized growth rates of 6.2% in the third quarter, followed by 6.6% in the fourth quarter.
Globally, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases rose to nearly 1.5 million, with more than 88,500 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The disease it causes, known as Covid-19, has killed more than 14,800 people in the U.S. in slightly over a month.
“Investors are not putting the risk of a resurgence on the top of their minds right now,” said Eli Lee, head of investment strategy at Bank of Singapore. The risk of a second or subsequent wave of infections would bear watching as this could prolong containment measures, leading to a longer recession than expected, he cautioned.
The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note fell to 0.748%, from 0.762% on Wednesday. Bond yields fall as prices rise.
Later in the day, new figures for U.S. initial jobless claims for the week ending April 4 are expected to remain elevated at about 5 million as swaths of the economy have shut down. Nearly 10 million Americans—more than the entire labor force of New York state—filed applications for unemployment insurance during the two-week span ending March 28. The data is due out at 8:30 a.m. ET.
“We’re seeing an unprecedented use of the word unprecedented,” said Altaf Kassam, head of investment strategy for State Street Global Advisors in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. “The graph just looks nuts. We’ve never had this kind of enforced closure of an economy before, especially the largest economy.”
While the weekly numbers are likely to be “huge,” many of the claims will probably prove to be temporary and not permanent job losses, according to Anton Brender, chief economist at Candriam.
Many of the world’s major stock markets will be closed Friday for public holidays, although markets in South Korea, mainland China and Japan will be among those trading.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Australia’s stock benchmark closed the week 6.3% higher. That was its third consecutive week of gains, although it remains nearly 25% below a record close on Feb. 20. Chinese and South Korean equity benchmarks ended the day higher, while Japan’s Nikkei 225 was flat.