HONG KONG – Global stock markets and oil prices fell Wednesday after a North Korean nuclear test unnerved investors and a report reinforced worries about growth in China, the world’s No. 2 economy.
KEEPING SCORE: France’s CAC 40 shed 1.5 per cent to 4,468.68 and Germany’s DAX dropped 1.6 per cent to 10,149.97. Britain’s FTSE 100 lost 1.5 per cent to 6,045.38. U.S stocks were poised to open lower. Dow and S&P 500 futures slumped 1.5 per cent and 1.6 per cent, respectively.
NUCLEAR TEST: North Korea announced it had carried out a hydrogen bomb test, after South Korea detected an “artificial earthquake” near the North’s main nuclear test site. The test is likely to raise tensions in the region and make investors more cautious and less willing to place risky bets. The surprise announcement makes it tougher to curb North Korea’s longstanding efforts to establish an arsenal of nuclear-armed long-distance missiles.
SERVICE SLIDE: A monthly survey of China’s service industries slipped to a 17-month low, renewing fears that the world’s No. 2 economy was facing stronger headwinds. The Caixin/Markit survey of service industry purchasing managers slipped to 50.2 in December from 51.2 the previous month. The index is based on a 100-point scale with numbers above 50 indicating expansion. Service industries have helped offset weakness in trade and investment as China’s economy undergoes a painful slowdown, but the latest figures show momentum is slowing.
QUOTEWORTHY: “I didn’t expect 2016 to be anything other than a roller-coaster, but we’re really starting off the roller-coaster really early,” said Michael Every, head of Asia-Pacific financial market research at Rabobank. The poor data and a weakening Chinese currency, which hurts export rivals, were bad enough, but now “you have North Korea letting off a hydrogen bomb, not just a nuclear test, but a stronger nuclear bomb,” he said. “You wonder how much worse things could get.”
CHINA MEASURES: Stocks in China rebounded on news that Beijing would keep market steadying measures in place. The China Securities Regulatory Commission said that when a six-month old ban on sales by large shareholders ends this week, new restrictions will take effect. Stockholders owning more than 5 per cent of a company will be required to sell their shares in private transactions rather than on the open market to avoid shocks to the market, the regulator said.
EUROPEAN HOPES: Despite the global market turmoil, Europe saw a positive report on economic activity, which has been sluggish in recent years. Financial information company Markit said its purchasing managers’ index — a measure of growth in the manufacturing and services sectors — rose to a four-month high in December. It said the survey results bode well for 2016, as companies are starting to hire more.
ASIAN SCORECARD: Most regional benchmarks closed lower. Japan’s Nikkei 225 index lost 1 per cent to close at 18,191.32 and South Korea’s Kospi fell 0.3 per cent to end at 1,925.43. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng shed 1 per cent to 20,980.81 but the Shanghai Composite Index in mainland China rebounded 2.3 per cent to 3,361.84. It slumped 6.9 per cent on Monday and 0.3 per cent on Tuesday. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 retreated 1.2 per cent to 5,123.10.
ENERGY: Crude futures gave up their early gains as investors became cautious about the North Korean nuclear test. Benchmark U.S. oil fell 91 cents to $35.06 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. That added to the 79-cent drop on Thursday, when a report showed large global stockpiles. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils, lost $1.32 to $35.57 a barrel in London, its lowest in 11 years.
CURRENCIES: The dollar slipped to 118.39 yen from 119.13 yen in the previous day’s trading. The euro weakened to $1.0748 from $1.0744.