Hong Kong, March 8: Asian markets tanked and the euro struggled to recover Friday as the European Central Bank's decision to slash its growth and inflation forecasts added to increasing pessimism about the global outlook.
The announcement — and an extension of stimulus — is the latest warning of a lean road ahead after China unveiled a target for growth that would be its slowest in three decades and as the US Federal Reserve indicated it will hold off any fresh rate hikes this year.
It also threw a spanner in the works for investors in the region — particularly Shanghai — who had been chasing a rally fuelled by optimism that China and the United States will hammer out a deal to end their trade war.
Adding to the selling pressure was data showing Chinese exports plunged 20 percent last month, while imports were also sharply down — both missing expectations by some margin.
While the figures were skewed by the Lunar New Year break, they highlight ongoing troubles in the world's number-two economy, which is growing at its slowest pace for three decades.
“All these different variables are beginning to come together to paint a more dismal outlook for global growth,” Lindsey Piegza, chief economist at Stifel Nicolaus & Co., told Bloomberg TV.
The ECB said interest rates would be stuck around historic lows until the year's end at best, with bank boss Mario Draghi warning the eurozone was “coming out of, and maybe we still are in a period of continued weakness and pervasive uncertainty”.
– Euro under pressure –
Thursday's news sent the euro into a tailspin to hit a near two-year low against the dollar, while equity markets across Europe and the US ended in the red.
Those losses continued in Asia, where Shanghai, which has surged about a quarter so far this year, shed more than 4.4 percent, while Hong Kong was off 1.8 percent and Tokyo ended two percent lower.
Sydney sank one percent and Singapore 0.9 percent, with Seoul 1.3 percent off and Taipei 0.7 percent down.
Draghi cited “factors… mostly of external source”, including “the threat of protectionism” and “geopolitical considerations”, and analysts pointed out that the eurozone was in a precarious position.
“With the eurozone likely the next target for (Donald) Trump's trade-talk embrace, a slowing economy, a central bank very low on monetary bullets, an inability by members to mount a joint fiscal response and an impending Brexit… it is no surprise that the euro fell out of bed,” said OANDA senior market analyst Jeffrey Halley.
The single currency was unable to claw back any of Thursday's losses during early Asian business, and the rush to safe investments by traders kept riskier, higher-yielding units beaten down.
Focus is now on the release later Friday of US employment data, which will provide a fresh snapshot of the world's biggest economy, though expectations took a hit this week with figures showing moderating private-sector job growth.
– Key figures at 0710 GMT –
Tokyo – Nikkei 225: DOWN 2.0 percent at 21,025.56 (close)
Hong Kong – Hang Seng: DOWN 1.8 percent at 28,275.32
Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 4.4 percent at 2,969.86 (close)
Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1202 from $1.1191 at 2140 GMT
Pound/dollar: UP at $1.3095 from $1.3079
Dollar/yen: DOWN at 111.06 yen from 111.63 yen
Oil – West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 29 cents at $56.37 per barrel
Oil – Brent Crude: DOWN 37 cents at $65.93 per barrel
New York – Dow: DOWN 0.8 percent at 25,473.23 (close)
London – FTSE 100: DOWN 0.5 percent at 7,157.55 (close)