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Instant View: Trump tests positive for COVID-19; world stocks fall

NEW YORK/LONDON/SINGAPORE/TOKYO (Reuters) - Global equity markets slumped and investors moved into safer gold and the Japanese yen on Friday after U.S. President Donald Trump and his wife tested positive for the coronavirus, adding to market uncertainty just 32 days before U.S. elections.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump walks from Marine One to board Air Force One as he departs Washington on campaign travel to New Jersey at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, U.S., October 1, 2020. REUTERS/Leah Millis

Trump’s bombshell announcement sparked a risk-off mood among investors already concerned about an elusive fiscal stimulus package aimed at bolstering a U.S. recovery that’s been losing steam as seen by slowing jobs growth in September payrolls data.

The knee-jerk reactions subsided as markets assessed what Trump's diagnosis meant for the election and economy, given Democratic challenger Joe Biden's hefty lead in the polls. The S&P 500 .SPX recovered some of the steep losses seen in futures overnight, and was last off 0.8%. U.S. Treasury yields climbed as steadying stocks sapped investor appetite for safe-haven government debt.

COMMENTS:

ROBERTO PERLI, HEAD OF GLOBAL POLICY RESEARCH, CORNERSTONE MACRO, WASHINGTON

“This injects further uncertainty into the outcome of the election. My read is that markets have demonstrated an aversion of late especially to uncertainty, not so much to one or the other candidate winning. What we are seeing in stocks early this morning, and in Treasuries as well, is consistent with that. Hopefully the situation will be clarified soon and the uncertainty will dissipate.”

“However, remember that this is not the only issue – markets are also paying attention to the likelihood that another stimulus package will pass soon. If that happens it could offset at least in part the uncertainty generated by the Covid news.”

CRAIG ERLAM, SENIOR MARKET ANALYST, OANDA EUROPE (emailed)

“It’s a bit of a cliche but the markets do hate uncertainty and today is evident of that. We don’t even know what impact this will have on Trump’s health, let alone the implications for the election next month or his ability to campaign in the interim.

“I don’t think we can read too heavily into the market reaction though, with everyone demanding to know what it means. Is it a reflection of the mood towards a Biden Presidency? I would argue not. That’s not to say markets will favour him a month from now if he wins but I don’t think that’s what’s going on.

“Not to mention that the initial reaction came against the backdrop of more failed stimulus talks on Capitol Hill and prior to the jobs report, which have probably contributed to the risk-off mood. Everything should become much clearer in the coming days.”

QUINCY KROSBY, CHIEF MARKET STRATEGIST, PRUDENTIAL FINANCIAL, NEWARK, NEW JERSEY

“The knee-jerk reaction from the market was dramatic. All of the safe-haven assets got the bid that you have with those sorts of headlines. But the more information the market receives, especially if the president is recovering and where the symptoms have been mild if that’s the report, it should ease pressure on the market.

“The futures market has eased a bit. Granted the employment data were disappointing, but the condition of the president at this point is more important for the market, especially given that we are right in the midst of the election season.”

NANNETTE HECHLER-FAYD’HERBE, CHIEF INVESTMENT OFFICER INTERNATIONAL WEALTH MANAGEMENT, CREDIT SUISSE, LONDON

“Following news that US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump tested positive for COVID-19, financial markets have reacted with a risk-off move. Equities are down, equity volatility is up, and safe-haven assets like the JPY and US Treasuries are well-bid. While this move may reflect initial caution in the face of potential risks around the US president’s health, it more likely serves as a wake-up call for financial markets to expect a seasonal reacceleration of COVID-19 infections around the world. What can happen to the US president can happen to the population more broadly, with the potential disruptions to economic activity that this may entail. The news puts market focus on the likely roll-over in economic data and momentum in Q4 after the encouraging developments of Q3. So, we expect risk assets and cyclical assets to continue to fluctuate in sync with the public health situation, vaccine-related news and their respective implications for the economic outlook in the months to come.”

JAMES MCDONALD, CEO, HERCULES INVESTMENTS, LOS ANGELES (emailed)

“The news of President Trump contracting COVID-19 may completely change the direction of the campaign and adds to our already cautious outlook on the stock market.”President Trump contracting the coronavirus will elevate institutional money’s preparation for a Democratic White House and all the tax, trade and budget implications that go along with it. We expect institutional investors to start de-risking portfolios and increasing hedges in preparation for market volatility.”We are not changing our investing strategy based on President Trump contracting the coronavirus and in fact, it forces us to double down on our strategy. We have been long volatility due to market overvaluation, the absence of fiscal relief from coronavirus-triggered economic pressure and uncertainty heading into the U.S. presidential election.”

DEREK HALPENNY, HEAD OF RESEARCH, GLOBAL MARKETS AT MUFG

“What might this news on President Trump mean? Some wires are reporting this as a risk-off event as it raises the prospect of a Biden victory and a Democrat victory is equity market negative. We are not convinced on that line of reasoning.”

“Firstly, Trump remains very competitive in key swing states ... and catching COVID is unlikely to alter his support much. Indeed, if he quickly recovers it will play into his line of argument over getting the economy open being much more important.”

PAUL DONOVAN, CHIEF ECONOMIST AT UBS GLOBAL WEALTH MANAGEMENT

“News that US President Trump has tested positive for COVID-19 must be worrying at a personal level, as it would be for anyone. Markets (being impersonal) will focus on whether this affects the election outcome or public health policy.”

“The future presidential debates may not happen; these were not seen as especially significant. Those opposed to mask-wearing may revise their views, and the president’s experience may impact U.S. public health policy.”

CHRIS BAILEY, RAYMOND JAMES EUROPEAN STRATEGIST

“Naturally raises concerns about the impact on the upcoming election, running of the country and related. This followed the U.S. reporting its biggest jump in new cases in five days, including nearly 20 states reporting single day increases of more than 1,000 infections.”

CHRIS WESTON, HEAD OF RESEARCH, PEPPERSTONE, MELBOURNE

“The President of the United States has got a disease which kills people. People are de-risking because of that.”

“The next point is how far has this has gone in (to the administration), which has big implications for the elections. The worst case scenario is we could see the election pushed back a bit.

“But it really depends on what we are talking about. Are we talking about a situation where he gets it and doesn’t turn up to debates? Or he gets it and uses it to say: ‘I’ve survived this, I’m a fighter,’ - or he passes away...we’ve got a lot of questions and not a lot of answers immediately available.”

JULIAN WEE, INVESTMENT STRATEGIST, CREDIT SUISSE, SINGAPORE

“The initial market reaction has been negative but I’m not sure that well prove enduring.

“Ultimately, once the initial kneejerk reaction has passed, the market will probably focus on what it might mean for the elections. And so far, the narrative has been turning more positive over the last week or so. Our official base case is for a Democratic sweep, pretty much in line with latest polling.”

KHOON GOH, HEAD OF ASIA RESEARCH, ANZ , SINGAPORE

“At this stage, it is too early to tell yet how this may affect the election outcome. Markets have sold off in a knee jerk reaction to the news, which is understandable.”

“The dollar was bought initially, but has since sold off. I imagine so long as it appears both the President and the First Lady are in reasonable condition, these market moves will unwind.”

NAOYA OSHIKUBO, SENIOR ECONOMIST, SUMITOMO MITSUI TRUST ASSET MANAGEMENT, TOKYO

“Trump has been trailing behind Biden and he has clearly failed to narrow the gap after the first debate, which is the most important of the three debates. I suspect markets will lean towards the view that Biden will likely win the election.

“What I am worried is that he will become even more aggressive against China after he caught the virus himself for I got the impression that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has become more anti-China after he had COVID-19.

“For the time being it will be difficult for financial markets to be on risk-on mood.

AYAKO SERA, MARKET STRATEGIST, SUMITOMO MITSUI TRUST BANK, TOKYO:

“We are seeing typical risk-off trades now, but as far as we know Trump is not gravely ill. It is possible that by the time we reach New York trading that markets will have calmed down.

“If Trump’s symptoms are mild and he stages a quick recovery, his support could increase, which would be similar to what happened with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

“However, this does damage Trump’s ability to campaign and time is running out before the election.

“Whether it’s Trump or Biden, the biggest problem is uncertainty. As long as we’re uncertain about who will win the election, it is difficult for markets to truly settle.”

Compiled by the global Finance & Markets reporting team

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