European shares shrug off heavy losses for US tech stocks

Investors took in stride concerns that a Covid-19 vaccine might be delayed

Photograph: iStock

Photograph: iStock


European shares on Wednesday shrugged off heavy losses for US tech stocks and a major drugmaker delaying testing of a coronavirus vaccine, as investors kept faith in an economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

The broad Euro Stoxx 600 gained 0.7 per cent in early trading, steadying after hefty declines a day earlier on a rout of tech shares, a key drivers of the stunning recovery for global stocks from coronavirus-induced lows. London shares gained 1 per cent, helped by a pound buffeted by worries about the chance of a no-deal Brexit that could hit Britain’s economy.

Indexes in Frankfurt and Paris also gained. AstraZeneca said it has paused global trials of its experimental Covid-19 vaccine due to an unexplained illness in a study participant. The news earlier unnerved investors hoping the quick introduction of a vaccine would help accelerate the recovery for economies ravaged by the pandemic.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan slid 1 per cent, with indexes in Australia, China and Japan all skidding. Bond yields fell and the Japanese yen climbed to a one-week high of 105.93 per dollar as investors sought safety. Still, Wall Street futures gauges were pointing to a bounce for the S&P 500 and tech-heavy Nasdaq, up 0.5 per cent and 1.4 per cent respectively.

The MSCI world equity index, which tracks shares in nearly 50 countries, was flat.

With Big Tech the main winners in the global recovery from the coronavirus, benefiting from stay-at-home spenders, investors were mostly sanguine about the sector’s prospects, even after the bruising sell-off.

The Nasdaq has lost $1.5 trillion since hitting a September 2nd peak. “This has been a correction that was probably not that surprising, given the move in August in the tech sector,” said Salman Baig, an investment manager at Unigestion, adding that the outlook for Big Tech was positive. “It’s exactly those companies that are new economy - they are benefiting because of their model, the industry, the virus.”

Those attributes have sparked heavy bets from the likes of SoftBank, which has traded heavily in tech stocks call options. The bets have unnerved investors worried about its exposure to the sector.

SoftBank Group shares lost 3 per cent in Tokyo, extending this week’s slump that has wiped $15 billion from its market capitalisation. The group’s shares fell 3.64 per cent on Wednesday due to worries about the Japanese conglomerate’s trading in call options on US tech stocks. SoftBank has fallen around 12 per cent since sources told Reuters and other media late last week that it built up stakes in major US tech companies worth around $4 billion and bought a similar amount of call options for the underlying shares.

Despite renewed appetite for stocks, safe-haven German government bond yields fell to their lowest in two-weeks.

The fall in tech shares also boosted demand for US Treasuries, even though heavy supply this week is expected to weigh on the bonds.

Vaccine “blow”

The remarkable rally in global shares from their March lows has been driven in part by expectations that a Covid-19 vaccine would be found, helping to accelerate the economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

Yet AstraZeneca’s move dims prospects for an early rollout of its vaccine, described by the World Health Organization as probably the world’s leading candidate and the most advanced in terms of development. Deutsche Bank strategists called the suspension of the trials “a blow”. AstraZeneca shares recovered ground after falling heavily in after-hours US trading, and were last down 0.6 per cent.

Elsewhere, sterling was stalked by fears that Britain is preparing to undercut its Brexit divorce treaty. Britain will set out new details of its blueprint for life outside the European Union, publishing legislation a minister acknowledged would break international law and which could sour trade talks. Sterling dipped 0.3 per cent to $1.2945, its lowest since the end of July, and also fell the same amount against the euro to 90.70 pence, its lowest for six weeks. – Reuters