November 20, 2020
By Chibuike Oguh
(Reuters) – Global stocks came under pressure on Friday after U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin called for an end to pandemic relief for struggling businesses, sparking a rare clash between the central bank and Treasury and weighing on sentiment.
Asian shares staged a mixed open and futures for the S&P 500 fell 0.66%, erasing the firmer lead from a strong Wall Street session overnight.
U.S. markets had previously rallied after Senate Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had agreed to revive talks to craft a new fiscal relief package.
However, that sentiment faded after Treasury Secretary Mnuchin later asked the Federal Reserve to return money earmarked under the March pandemic relief act for emergency lending to businesses, nonprofits and local governments.
That would mark an end on Dec. 31 to most of the crisis-response programs the Fed deemed vital to keeping the economy stable.
“The White House wants to pull the unused portions back so Congress can spend the money elsewhere, while the Fed is pushing back,” said Stephen Innes, Global chief market strategist at axi. “Indeed, this does not help the push-pull tug of war around short-term versus long-term markets narrative at a time when it important that all levels of government, including the Fed, at least put up the pretense of a unified front.”
Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.44% in early trading, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index futures rose 0.22%. Japan’s Nikkei opened 0.6% lower.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.11%.
Investor sentiment was also tinged by data that showed COVID-19 hospitalizations across the U.S. jumped by nearly 50% in the last two weeks, threatening the recovery of the world’s largest economy as cities and states began to impose lockdowns.
“A meaningful stimulus package will aid small companies, the underlying economy, as well as the unemployed and people most at need,” said Thomas Hayes, chairman of Great Hill Capital in New York. “And there might be less of an inclination for cities to shut down.”
Nearly 79,000 people were being treated for COVID-19 infections in U.S. hospitals on Thursday, a Reuters tally showed, the most at any time during the pandemic. The surge in cases has weighed on investors as the United States recorded 161,607 new daily cases on a seven-day rolling average as of Wednesday.
All three major stock indexes, however, got a healthy boost after Schumer said he had agreed with McConnell to allow their staff to begin meetings for “a real good COVID relief bill.”
A senior Democratic aide told Reuters there had been a mid-afternoon meeting on Thursday among congressional aides that discussed coronavirus relief and efforts to pass a $1.4 trillion bill to keep government agencies operating beyond Dec. 11 when current funding expires.
Of the 11 major sectors in the S&P 500, energy and tech shares gained the most, while utilities and healthcare were the only losers in percentage terms.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.15%, the S&P 500 gained 0.39% and the Nasdaq Composite added 0.87%.
U.S. Treasury yields slipped on the news of Mnuchin’s letter to Fed Chair Jerome Powell, which came out after Wall Street closed. The yield on the benchmark 10-year note was last at 0.842%. U.S. stock futures also fell 0.84% when trading resumed.
Oil prices reversed losses and edged higher in after-market trade, after Brent settled down 0.3% at $44.20 per barrel with U.S. crude 0.2% lower at $41.70.
(Reporting by Chibuike Oguh in New York; Editing by Sam Holmes)