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Global markets tread water ahead of key central bank meetings

London — Global stocks traded in narrow ranges near recent record highs on Thursday as investors digested a stream of mixed earnings ahead of key central bank meetings.

The MSCI all-country world index was little changed at 741 points, barely below its lifetime high of 749.16 points hit in September. In Europe, the Stoxx index of 600 companies was also flat at 474 points, about two points below its record high from August.

Markets awaited the European Central Bank’s (ECB’s) meeting later in the morning, with the US Federal Reserve and Bank of England meetings next week also a focus against the backdrop of inflationary pressures from bottlenecks in global supply chains.

“The markets are caught in a bit of a no-man’s land of optimism that earnings are going to continue to be positive, against pessimism that inflation is going to crimp profit margins,” said Michael Hewson, chief markets analyst at CMC Markets.

“Even if there has been no evidence of that, we need to get these central bank meetings out of the way as they are keeping investors on tenterhooks,” Hewson said.

The effect of bottlenecks on sectors such as cars was further highlighted on Thursday by Volkswagen, its shares falling 2.4% after the German car giant cut its outlook for deliveries as a shortage of computer chips led to lower-than-expected operating profit in the third quarter.

In Asia, Japan’s robot maker Fanuc tumbled 7.8% while IT conglomerate Fujitsu shed 8.4% as their earnings showed a bigger than expected effect from a global chips shortages.

Oil prices eased to their lowest level in two weeks after official figures showed a surprise jump in US inventories of crude, while rising cases of Covid-19 in Europe, Russia and some outbreaks in China dented hopes for a global economic recovery.

Brent fell 1% to $83.78 a barrel, off Monday’s seven-year high of $86.70. US crude fetched $81.80 a barrel, down 1% and off a seven-year high of $85.41 hit on Monday.

Investors will scrutinise advance third-quarter US economic growth figures ahead of Wall Street’s open for clues on the pace of recovery in the world’s biggest economy after a surge in Covid-19 infections.

Overnight on Wall Street, the S&P 500 lost 0.51% from an all-time high of 4,574.79 hit on Tuesday, while the Nasdaq closed the session little changed.

The ECB is expected to keep policy unchanged and push back against growing expectations for an interest rate hike in 2022, even though it may admit that inflation will be higher than projected.

The euro was steady at $1.1612 ahead of the ECB’s policy announcement later in the day.

Japan’s Nikkei fell 0.9%, while mainland Chinese shares slipped 0.7%.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan ticked down 0.3% amid worries over the effect of chip shortages.

“The working assumption in the market has been that the impact of a chip shortage will fade by the end of year. But if it remains a problem next year, investors will surely feel less confident about the outlook,” said Masayuki Murata, GM of balanced portfolio investment at Sumitomo Life Insurance.

The Bank of Canada ended its quantitative easing sooner than expected and signalled on Wednesday that it could hike interest rates earlier than previously thought, as soon as April 2022.

Longer-dated yields fell in part because a tighter monetary policy is likely to tame inflation and could derail the economic recovery down the road.

The 10-year US notes yields dropped to 1.559%, compared with a five-month peak of 1.705% touched a week ago.

“Long-dated yields are falling because of concerns that tighter monetary policies will restrain the economy in the longer run,” said Naokazu Koshimizu, senior rates strategist at Nomura Securities.

The yen showed limited response to the Bank of Japan’s decision to keep its policy on hold and stood at 113.62/$, slightly down.

Reuters