Stocks rise as governments throw kitchen sink at virus

John BIERS
Just another rocky day at the office

Beaten-down European and US stocks rose Thursday, as markets weighed massive government stimulus efforts against early indicators of what is expected to be a deep and painful economic downturn.

Wall Street equities finished a volatile session higher, with the Dow finishing up one percent as the Federal Reserve unveiled additional measures to boost liquidity and as Capitol Hill pushed ahead with massive stimulus, with Senate Republicans unveiling a plan for $1 trillion in fiscal spending.

But fresh US data showed a spike in jobless claims and major drop in manufacturing activity.

European bourses also had one their best days in the last couple of weeks following an announcement by the European Central Bank of 750 billion euros to fund "emergency" bond purchases.

The Bank of England came back with its second interest rate cut within days and unleashed its "biggest ever one-off round of asset purchases," said Kallum Pickering, senior economist at Berenberg.

Oil prices pushed higher, bouncing after suffering an historically big drop in the prior session.

- Deep uncertainty -

Many analysts expect markets to remain highly volatile and under pressure until health authorities get a better grasp of the scale of the outbreak in the United States and Europe and how long it will curtail activity.

"We are still in the first inning," said Keith Buchanan, portfolio manager at Globalt. "We just don't know where this is going, there is no precedent and that is what is making the market so hysterical."

Italy overtook China as the country with the most reported deaths from the new coronavirus sweeping the planet, announcing another 427 fatalities on Thursday, taking its total to 3,405.

The US has recorded 10,755 cases of new coronavirus infection, 154 of them fatal. But authorities expect the number to increase steeply in the coming days because of increased levels of testing after initial delays.

Markets have welcomed the array of fiscal and monetary steps announced to prop up the economy, but there are still doubts given the scale of the slowdown.

"What if liquidity support is not enough?" asked Holger Schmieding, at Berenberg, wondering whether governments might be tempted to take direct stakes in companies, if only to save them from hostile takeover -- a policy shift he called "a potential risk."

"Markets are in risk-averse mode," said Christopher Dembik, head of economic research at Saxo Banque in Paris.

- Key figures around 2100 GMT -

New York - Dow: UP 1.0 percent at 20,087.19 (close)

New York - S&P 500: UP 0.5 percent at 2,409.39 (close)

New York - Nasdaq: UP 2.3 percent at 7,150.58 (close)

London - FTSE 100: UP 1.4 percent at 5,151.61 (close)

Frankfurt - DAX 30: UP 2.0 percent at 8,610.43 (close)

Paris - CAC 40: UP 2.7 percent 3,855.50 (close)

EURO STOXX 50: UP 2.9 percent at 2,454.08 (close)

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: DOWN 1.0 percent at 16,552.83 (close)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng: DOWN 2.6 percent at 21,709.13 (close)

Shanghai - Composite: DOWN 1.0 percent at 2,702.13 (close)

Brent North Sea crude: UP 14.4 percent at $28.47 per barrel

West Texas Intermediate: UP 24 percent at $25.22 per barrel

Dollar/yen: UP at 110.65 yen from 109.09 yen at 2100 GMT

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.0692 from $1.0991

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.1479 from $1.1629

Euro/pound: DOWN at 93.03 pence from 93.97

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