It is a sea of blood red this October morning as the biggest market rout since February and the longest selloff of the Trump administration triggered a surge of global selling from the U.S. through Asia and spreading to Europe on Thursday, with markets from Tokyo to London slumping amid fresh fears the decade-old bull market may be coming to an end.
“Equity markets are locked in a sharp sell-off, with concern around how far yields will rise, warnings from the IMF about financial stability risks and continued trade tension all driving uncertainty,” summed up analysts at ANZ.
The sell-off that started in the U.S. ripped across Asian stock markets Thursday, with indexes in Japan, Hong Kong and China all tumbling.
All but one stock listed on Japan’s Nikkei 225 Stock Average retreated, while the country’s Topix index posted its steepest decline since March losing around $207 billion in market value, falling 3.5%. China’s Shanghai Composite sank 5.2%, its biggest drop since February 2016 to close at its lowest since November 2014, while the Hang Seng Index lost 3.5%. Taiwan’s Taiex index led the rout with a 6.3% slump.
The MSCI Asia Pacific Index had its worst day since June 2016, when the U.K. voted to leave the EU, with the index plunging 3.5% and closing in on entering a bear market.
Turbulence spiked in Asian markets as the Nikkei Stock Average Volatility Index surged 44%. The MSCI Asia Pacific Index ex Japan closed down 3.6%, hitting its lowest level since March 2017. China’s main indexes had slumped over 5 percent
The Asian regional benchmark gauge has slumped 13 percent this year as uncertainties such as the U.S.-China trade war weigh on investor sentiment. The Shanghai Composite Index has lost 22 percent in 2018, while Japan’s Topix is down 6.4 percent.
“It’s just a beginning,” said Banny Lam, head of research at CEB International Investment. “The U.S. tech bubble may take a while to burst and we are facing many external uncertainties – trade wars, risks in emerging markets currencies and oil price. And people should also watch yuan closely.”
“Asia is like a leveraged play on the U.S. market and the global trade situation right now, that’s not going to change until a deal is reached between the two largest economies in the world,” said Olivier d’Assier, head of applied research for the Asia-Pacific region at Axioma. For emerging markets, “the trifecta of a falling U.S. market, higher U.S. interest rates, and a stronger dollar is a deadly combination so they are likely to remain under pressure.”
The Asian rout then spread to Europe, where stocks slumped to a more than an 18-month low. Losses in London, Paris and Milan were already climbing toward 2% in early trading, although the selloff wasn’t quite as dramatic as the overnight session in Asia. Italian equities entered a bear market, however, on ongoing budget concerns and LeasePlan Group NV pulled a planned IPO.
As a result of the global rout, MSCI’s 24-country emerging market index was having its worst day since early 2016, after Wall Street’s swoon had given the 47-country world index equivalent its worst day since February.
Meanwhile, in a surprising reversal from previous routs, US futures failed to rebound as dip buyers stayed away from the E-Mini. S&P futures extended losses from Wednesday, when the Nasdaq 100 Index plunged more than 4% for its worst day in seven years.
The futures drop took place after the S&P500’s sharpest one-day fall since February wiped out around $850 billion of wealth as technology shares tumbled on fears of slowing demand. The S&P 500 ended Wednesday with down 3.29%, wiping out nearly half the year’s gains in one session; the Nasdaq Composite plunged 4.08% and the Dow 2.2%.
“The latest drop is reminiscent of February’s selling, which saw its recovery assisted by positive earnings results,” said Jingyi Pan, a market strategist at IG Asia Pte. “As for the upcoming earnings season commencing with major U.S. banks on Friday, the outlook is rather mixed thus adding to the uncertainty. It will be one worth watching for aid to the market given the proximity and it will be difficult to rule out further decline in the market absent positive factors.”
Investors seeking to isolate the cause of the current rout in equities have no shortage of culprits: U.S companies are increasingly fretting the impact of the burgeoning trade war, while the same concern prompted the IMF to dial down global growth expectations for the first time in two years. In the tech sector, which was a key driver of the rally that pushed American equities to a record just a month ago, expensive-looking companies have been roiled by a hacking scandal.
At the same time, the Federal Reserve has been trimming its balance sheet and raising interest rates which as “well below” the neutral rate of interest according to Powell, which in turn provoked the ire of President Donald Trump and helping force a repricing of riskier assets. Trump, who has claimed credit for record U.S. stock levels, said after the market closed on Wednesday that the Fed is “loco”, that it is making a “mistake” and “has gone crazy.”
Commenting on the recent move, Saxo Capital strategist Eleanor Creagh said that “the sharp rise in U.S. 10-year yields has caused investors to suddenly reprice the impact of moving from post-crisis low yields to a rising rate environment. We have the global growth engines, price of energy rising, price of money rising and quantity of money falling combined with the ongoing trend of de-globalization which has started to impact markets and the cracks are showing.”
Curiously, Treasuries which helped trigger the stock selloff when 10-year yields hit the highest since 2011, nudged higher after jumping on Wednesday as bonds have once again become a safe haven. It meant that as equities were caught in a global carnage, US Treasurys were oddly calm, with the 10Y generally unchanged overnight.
“The rise in Treasury yields has been the primary catalyst for the sell-off in equities, since higher yields suggest a lower present value of future dividend streams, assuming an unchanged economic outlook,” said Steven Friedman, senior economist at BNP Paribas Asset Management. “It is also possible that equity investors are growing concerned that the Federal Reserve’s projected rate path will choke off the expansion.”
Meanwhile, Italian bonds sold off again as Deputy Premier Matteo Salvini once again said the populist government will stick with its budget plan and that rating agencies “won’t make us change our minds”, though the country successfully sold new debt. Asked about possible downgrade by ratings agencies and concerns about spread with German bunds, Salvini said “we’ve already seen this movie in the past, it’s forced Italians to make incredible sacrifices, to have cuts on schools and reforms on health and pensions which impoverished,” adds “we will do exactly the opposite.”