Stocks struggle with muddled government pandemic response

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Global equity benchmarks struggled on Friday as some U.S. states began reopening businesses despite the disapproval of health experts, and as the European Union put off addressing details of its new economic rescue plan.

Safe-haven government bonds edged up while the dollar slipped, reflecting the market’s unsettled direction. Oil’s recovery lost some momentum as the day wore on.

MSCI’s All Country World Index slipped 0.3% as losses in Europe offset U.S. equity gains. The index is on pace for its worst weekly performance since March.

Equity markets gave up Thursday’s gains after a report that Gilead Sciences Inc’s antiviral drug remdesivir had failed to help severely ill COVID-19 patients in its first clinical trial.

“Any piece of bad news is likely to rattle the market,” said Tim Ghriskey, chief investment strategist at New York-based wealth management firm Inverness Counsel. “Investors are keen for a semblance of hope that they can soon crawl out of their homes and get on with some form of normal life, even if with trepidation and fear.”

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was flat after Boeing Co fell more than 6% on a report the planemaker was planning to cut 787 Dreamliner output by about half. The S&P 500 gained 7.11 points, or 0.25%, to 2,804.91 and the Nasdaq Composite added 40.27 points, or 0.47%, at 8,535.03.

As the U.S. coronavirus death toll topping 50,000, Georgia pushed ahead with its plan to become the first state to allow an array of small businesses to reopen on Friday despite the disapproval of President Donald Trump and health experts.

EU leaders agreed on Thursday to build a trillion-euro emergency fund to help recover from the coronavirus outbreak, while leaving divisive details until the summer.

French President Emmanuel Macron said differences continued between EU governments over whether the fund should be transferring grant money, or simply making loans.

“The risk exists that a concrete decision on the creation of the recovery fund may not occur before September, thereby not being operational before early 2021,” Goldman Sachs European economist Alain Durre wrote in a note.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index lost 1.10%.

Investors remained in perceived safe-haven government bonds. Benchmark 10-year notes last rose 3/32 in price to yield 0.6024%, from 0.611% late on Thursday.

The dollar index fell 0.08%, but the euro rose 0.14% to $1.0791.

The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday passed a $484 billion bill to expand federal loans to small businesses and hospitals overwhelmed by patients.

Trump, who has indicated he will sign the bill, said late Thursday he may need to extend social distancing guidelines to early summer.

Oil prices lost some momentum but broadly retained their recovery from this week’s price collapse which pushed U.S. crude futures into negative territory for the first time ever, supported by producers such as Kuwait saying they would move to cut output. [O/R]

U.S. crude rose 1.82% to $16.80 per barrel at midday, and Brent was at $21.50, up 0.8%.

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