World stocks at record highs as investors weigh Biden inauguration

ECB policy meeting sees no change to supportive policies

World stocks racked up record highs on Thursday and the dollar fell as investors bet major stimulus from new US President Joe Biden and unswerving global central bank support would cushion the coronavirus's economic damage.

Europe’s traders hoisted the Ftse and Dax 0.2 per cent to 0.4 per cent higher and pushed up the euro again as the European Central Bank’s first policy meeting of the year saw no change to its supportive policies.

With Asian stocks reaching new highs overnight and Wall Street pointing higher again, MSCI’s global index covering nearly 50 countries added 0.3 per cent to its 76 per cent rally since the Covid crash last March.

Republicans in the US Congress have indicated they are willing to work with Biden on his administration’s top priority, a $1.9 trillion US fiscal-stimulus plan. Some remain opposed to the price tag, but the final amount is still expected to be worth at least 5 per cent of US gross domestic product.


“Biden has got the benefit of the doubt as far as markets are concerned and has had for some time,” said Shamik Dhar, chief economist at BNY Mellon investment management.

“The benefit of higher stimulus is viewed as outweighing any negative impacts of higher corporate taxes and regulation. And I think they are right to think that. Monetary policy is also likely to remain loose,” he said.

Bond yields barely budged, with debt markets now focusing on the ECB’s meeting, as the bank kept its key “deposit” interest rate at -0.5 per cent as widely expected, after boosting its 1.85 trillion-euro emergency bond- buying programme by 500 billion euros ($606.30 billion) in December.

Since then, many European countries, including France and Germany, have tightened coronavirus lockdown restrictions. Vaccination programmes have also been slow to ramp up, adding to the doubts over the speed of economic recovery.

ECB President Christine Lagarde was due to hold a news conference at 1330 GMT.

“We don’t expect many fireworks from the European Central Bank meeting,” ING strategists said, foreseeing “a fairly uneventful day for the euro,” which was up 0.3 per cent at $1.2145 but well within its recent $1.20 to $1.23 range.

In the currency markets the dollar was off 0.15 per cent against the yen at 103.37 amid the expectations of a Biden stimulus push and after the Bank of Japan left its policies unchanged overnight.

The broader dollar index was down 0.17 per cent to 90.254, while benchmark US 10-year Treasury notes yielded 1.0785 per cent, down from a US close of 1.09 per cent on Wednesday.

Wall Street was set to open riding its latest tech rally.

Netflix shares had surged nearly 17 per cent on Wednesday after it would no longer need to borrow billions of dollars to finance its TV shows and movies.

Google parent Alphabet had jumped 5.3 per cent too and along with Facebook, Apple, and Netflix, the so-called FAANGs group added $262 billion, taking their market cap to $6.15 trillion.

There was weekly jobs data to look forward to but most of the focus was on Biden’s policies around the key issues such as the pandemic response, the economy and trade tensions that dominated Donald Trump’s term over the last four years.

Around the time Mr Biden was sworn in as president on Wednesday China announced sanctions against “lying and cheating” outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and 27 other top officials under former President Donald Trump.

“Imposing these sanctions on Inauguration Day is seemingly an attempt to play to partisan divides,” Mr Biden’s National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne said in a statement to Reuters.

Mark Rosenberg, CEO of high-frequency political risk data firm GeoQuant, said rather than an easing of US-China tensions, the key indicators that his firm monitor currently point to them worsening further.

“There is a brief stabilisation with the new administration but then a reacceleration thereafter,” Rosenberg said, highlighting US relations with Taiwan and issues over Hong Kong and the South China Sea all as flash points. “It looks particularly volatile in the second half of 2021.”

In commodity markets, oil prices eased on an unexpected rise in US crude stockpiles, though hopes for an economic revival kept losses in check. US West Texas Intermediate crude dipped 0.24 per cent to $53.18 a barrel. Brent crude fell 0.16% to $55.99 per barrel. – Reuters