Stocks across the globe wavered on Wednesday on fears of trade tensions and questions about U.S. interest rates, while lower-than-expected inventory data sent oil prices into the black after morning losses.
Investors are awaiting the U.S. Federal Reserve’s 2:00 p.m. ET decision on monetary policy, with the year’s second interest rate hike almost certain.
But market participants are keen to know how many times the Fed will raise rates in 2018, with market pricing “fairly split between three and four hikes,” Deutsche Bank strategist Jim Reid wrote in a note to clients.
Amid the uncertainty, Wall Street opened slightly firmer, buoyed by a jump in media stocks after Tuesday’s court ruling allowing AT&T’s $85 billion take over of Time Warner - a move expected to trigger a wave of corporate mergers.
Shares of the HBO channel owner jumped about 3 per cent after the approval, while AT&T dropped 1.6 percent.
Overall, stock markets were moving up, but tepidly.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 18.88 points, or 0.07 per cent, to 25,339.61, the S&P 500 gained 4 points, or 0.14 per cent, to 2,790.85 and the Nasdaq Composite added 42.30 points, or 0.55 per cent, to 7,746.09.
Canada’s main stock index was flat Wednesday as marijuana producers rose.
The federal Liberal government is rejecting more than a dozen Senate amendments to its landmark law to legalize cannabis, including the upper chamber’s efforts to further limit — or ban outright — the ability to cultivate marijuana at home.
In a motion put before the House of Commons, the Liberals say they can’t support a Senate amendment that would allow provinces to ban home cultivation of marijuana, arguing that the bill already gives provinces and territories the ability to impose their own restrictions.
Aurora Cannabis Inc. rose 2.3 per cent, while Canopy Growth Corp. was up 2 per cent and Aphria Inc. increased 0.8 per cent.
At 11:57 a.m. , the Toronto Stock Exchange’s S&P/TSX Composite index was up 2.81 points, or 0.02 per cent, to 16,291.85.
The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index rose 0.19 per cent, and MSCI’s gauge of stocks across the globe , which has been stagnating near one-month highs for about a week, gained 0.09 per cent.
Equity markets are “finding it difficult to make upward progress despite reasonably good economic data”, said Andrew Milligan, head of global strategy at Aberdeen Standard Investments.
Along with the Fed and other key central bank policy meetings this week, fresh fears of protectionism are weighing on stocks and currencies as the U.S. prepares to unveil more tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese goods.
Emerging market stocks lost 0.37 per cent, while MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan closed 0.58 per cent lower.
Trade tensions pressured the Mexican peso and Canadian dollar, which gained 0.46 and 0.35 per cent, respectively, versus the greenback.
The dollar index, which measures the U.S. currency against a basket of others, fell 0.2 per cent, with the euro up 0.29 per cent to $1.1777.
Oil prices, which had started the day in the red, rose after a report by the Energy Information Administration indicated U.S. crude inventories fell more than anticipated last week and while gasoline and distillate stocks surprised with unexpected declines.
U.S. crude was up 0.36 per cent to $66.60 per barrel and Brent was last at $76.36, up 0.63 per cent on the day. Gasoline futures were up 1.1 per cent to $2.1124 a gallon.
“You tend to want to see draws in gasoline early in the summer with driving season, and this is the first number that actually does that ... in three weeks,” said Bob Yawger, director of energy futures at Mizuho in New York.
In government bonds, U.S. Treasury yields were flat on Wednesday, moving in narrow ranges, with investors firmly focused on the Fed meeting.
Benchmark 10-year notes last rose 1/32 in price to yield 2.9535 per cent, from 2.957 per cent late on Tuesday.
The 30-year bond last rose 6/32 in price to yield 3.0823 per cent, from 3.092 per cent Tuesday.
Italian government bonds were in demand, as well, after Paolo Savona, the country’s new EU Affairs Minister, said the euro was “indispensable.”
The comments by Savona, who has previously expressed hostile views on the euro, followed statements earlier in the week by Italy’s new coalition government that it had no plans to leave the euro zone.
In another reminder of the danger of trade disputes, shares in Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE Corp fell as much as 41.5 per cent, wiping $3-billion off its market value, as it resumed trade after agreeing to pay up to $1.4-billion in penalties to the U.S. government.
Reuters and The Canadian Press