European markets defy vaccine woes to close higher

·4-min read
Delays to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine rollout have some investors rattled

European stock markets defied a delay to the Johnson&Johnson vaccine rollout to close higher Tuesday, while US indexes were mixed after a strong consumer inflation reading and bitcoin powered to a record peak on the eve of a key IPO.

London finished the day close to flat despite news of Britain's advancing economic growth and rebounding EU exports in February, but Frankfurt and Paris both pushed upwards in the face of bumps in the road.

Discouraging news like a delay to Johnson & Johnson's European rollout of its coronavirus vaccine and a weaker German investor sentiment reading were just "brakes" that "don't have what it takes to derail the sense of a powerful recovery set to arrive once the health issues are really under control," said IG France analyst Alexandre Baradez.

The delay to J&J's shot came after the US Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control recommended a "pause" on the one-jab inoculation, over worries about six reported cases of a rare type of blood clot in the United States.

US authorities said the decision was made "out of an abundance of caution" over a disorder that appears similar to that observed in rare cases of people who received the AstraZeneca vaccine in Europe.

Nevertheless, "this news has created a big PR problem as it is apt to scare some people away from getting the J&J vaccine if (government regulators) come back around and deem it safe for use again," Patrick J. O'Hare of Briefing.com said.

Such fears appeared reflected in morning trading on US markets, with the tech-heavy Nasdaq index climbing but a fall for the broader Dow Jones Industrial Average.

- Fears of Fed hitting brakes -

After the Labor Department said US consumer price inflation rose to 2.6 percent in the 12 months to March, analyst Fawad Razaqzada of Think Markets warned that "the key question is whether growth optimism will be replaced by inflationary concerns and taper tantrums," referring to market upset if the Federal Reserve sounds an end to easy-money policy.

Although policymakers have repeatedly pledged not to change tack until inflation is elevated for some time and unemployment is under control, "if we do now see more signs of the US economy heating up, then there could be a noticeable change in tone from the Fed," Razaqzada said.

At the same time, "talks about corporate tax hikes to pay for the cost of stimulus" from Washington mean "things could unravel on Wall Street soon".

"All it takes is a few people to start selling to get the ball rolling," Razaqzada added.

Optimism nevertheless appeared intact among cryptocurrency traders as bitcoin zoomed to a record high above $63,000.

As the cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase prepares to launch shares on Wall Street's Nasdaq index, the virtual unit was trading at $63,305, a huge gain of 117 percent since the start of the year.

"A good debut for Coinbase in Nasdaq will mark the first official juncture between the traditional financial avenue and the alternative crypto path," said Swissquote analyst Ipek Ozkardeskaya.

"As such, a successful addition to Nasdaq should act as endorsement of cryptocurrencies by traditional investors."

- Key figures around 1615 GMT -

New York - Dow: DOWN 0.4 percent at 33,602.26 points

London - FTSE 100: FLAT at 6,890.49

Paris - CAC 40: UP 0.4 percent at 6,184.10

Frankfurt - DAX 30: UP 0.1 percent at 15,234.36

EURO STOXX 50: UP 0.1 percent at 3,966.99

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: UP 0.7 percent at 29,751.61 (close)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng Index: UP 0.2 percent at 28,497.25 (close)

Shanghai - Composite: DOWN 0.5 percent at 3,396.47 (close)

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1938 from $1.1911 at 2100 GMT

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.3740 from 1.3741

Euro/pound: UP at 86.88 pence from 86.68 pence

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 109.17 yen from 109.38 yen

Brent North Sea crude: UP 1.0 percent at $63.89 per barrel

West Texas Intermediate: UP 1.1 percent at $60.33 per barrel

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