April 27, 2020 / 9:05 AM / a month ago

Daily Briefing: Central banks, rabbits and hats

It's the last week of April, and with new COVID-19 infections and hospitalisations in the West edging lower, markets are trying to rally.

A woman with a face mask wearing a kimono crosses a street in Ginza shopping district in Tokyo, April 25, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Focus is increasingly on lockdowns being lifted - faced with the risk that the cure kills the patient (the economy), more and more policymakers across the world are allowing businesses and manufacturing to resume.

The starkest example is the United States, where 26.5 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits since mid-March and the jobless rate is predicted at 16% this month. Before the pandemic, it was 3.5%.

Central banks continue to try and pull rabbits out of hats, with the Bank of Japan announcing unlimited government bond buying. In reality, the BOJ hasn't been buying that much paper of late anyway, but the move has signalling value if nothing else.

The wait is on to see what the Federal Reserve and European Central Bank, do at their meetings -- will the ECB take the plunge into buying the debt of fallen angel firms, as the Fed did? Watch also Sweden's Rijksbank; having exited sub-zero interest rates, it may have to return to that territory.

Men in protective clothing prepare to unload a cargo plane carrying protective masks from China in Leipzig, Germany, April 27, 2020, REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

The BOJ move, alongside decent earnings from chip and automation firms, pushed the Nikkei 3% higher. China’s March profits across its industrial complex slumped 35% year-on-year, but that’s better than the January-February drop of 38.3%.

So MSCI's global index is up 0.5% and Wall Street futures have risen 0.8% and European shares are up 2%. Other risk-on measures are also flickering: the dollar has retreated against a currency basket, yen is down 0.2%, the Aussie dollar is up 1% and even emerging-market currencies are eking out gains.

In other good news: Italian bond yields are down 16 basis points on relief S&P held off cutting its credit rating on Friday. U.S. Democrats are pushing another spending package.

While the company earnings picture is horrible, markets are seizing on glimmers of hope, such as carmaker Volkswagen reopening production and low-cost airline Wizz Air planning to resume some flights on May 1.

Italian factories and some wholesalers can re-open from May 4 and retailers two weeks later. French retailers might reopen on May 11 and Britain's lockdown could ease from May 7, media reports say. Another wave of U.S. states also are preparing to lift coronavirus restrictions this week.

Europe's first-quarter earnings consist of the expected  flow of coronavirus-driven profit hits, with Adidas predicting sales will fall at least 40% in the second quarter. Steelmaker SSAB reported a steep fall in quarterly operating earnings. Swiss freight-forwarding group Kuehne und Nagel International saw a 24% fall in first-quarter core earnings.

It's not at all doom and gloom. Aside from some businesses resuming output, German drugs and pesticides company Bayer is rallying after a statement that it was taking a tougher stance in talks to settle claims that its weedkillers cause cancer. Deutsche Bank first-quarter results beat expectations.

State aid is another theme with Lufthansa shares rising on talk of government help. Virgin Atlantic and planemaker Airbus are also looking for help; the latter's 135,000 employees have been told to brace for job cuts.

Emerging markets are starting the week brightly, with MSCI’s EM equity index up 1.6%. Most emerging currencies gained against the weaker dollar, with South Africa’s rand rising 1.1%, on news South Africa is seeking $5 billion from multilateral lenders, including the International Monetary Fund, to fight the virus.

— A look at the day ahead from EMEA deputy markets editor Sujata Rao. The views expressed are her own —

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