LONDON -- Stock markets turned lower on Thursday, despite earlier gains in Asia, extending days of wild swings as investors try to gauge the economic damage of the virus outbreak and how much governments and central banks can help.
European markets quickly lost their early gains, with France's CAC 40 down 2% at 5,357. Germany's DAX shed 1.9% to 11,897. Britain's FTSE 100 was down 1.8% to 6,697. Wall Street was expected to fall sharply on the open, with Dow futures down 1.7% and those for the S&P 500 retreating 2%.
The virus-fueled volatility in world financial markets has extended into a third week as new cases and deaths rose globally. That is putting more pressure on companies, with numerous airlines canceling flights and some even laying off workers.
Businesses are lowering their earnings targets or canceling forecasts altogether as it remains unclear how long the outbreak will continue to disrupt supply chains, production and travel. In Britain, a financially troubled regional airline, Flybe, collapsed as it struggled with the drop in demand for flights due to the virus.
“Initial gains for equity markets have faded as investors once again begin to worry about the spread of the coronavirus outside China," said Chris Beauchamp, chief market analyst at IG.
“The Western world is now following some of China’s playbook, closing schools and declaring a state of emergency for example, but there is a sense that this is too little, too late."
Thursday's decline comes a day after markets rallied, particularly in the U.S., on former Vice President Joe Biden's strong showing in the Democratic presidential nomination. Investors see him as more business-friendly than his main rival, Senator Bernie Sanders.
Sentiment had been helped also by Congress's decision to make $8.3 billion available to battle the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. The measure's funds would go toward research into a vaccine, improved tests and drugs to treat infected people.
Other policymakers are trying to help the economy. The U.S. Federal Reserve and the Bank of Canada both cut their key rates by half a percentage point, though analysts say that cheaper credit will do little in the short term to solve supply-side problems in global business.
Earlier, Asia closed higher, buoyed by Wall Street's gains the previous day. Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 rose 1.1% to finish at 21,329.12. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 added 1.1% to 6,395.70. South Korea's Kospi gained 1.3% to 2,085.26. Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 2.1% to 26,762.43, while the Shanghai Composite jumped 2.0% to 3,071.68. India's Sensex climbed 0.5% to 38,593.25.
Investors expect other central banks will follow up on the Federal Reserve’s surprise move Tuesday of slashing interest rates. The Bank of England has a meeting on March 26 on interest rates. The European Central Bank and others have already cut rates below zero, meanwhile, which limits their monetary policy firepower. But economists say they could make other moves, such as freeing up banks to lend more.
In energy markets, investors were monitoring an OPEC meeting in Vienna, where oil-producing countries are expected to slash output to support prices. Some analysts expect the two-day meeting to produce an agreement to cut production by at least 1 million barrels a day.
Benchmark crude oil was down 1 cents to $46.76 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude oil, the international standard, shed 3 cents to $51.10 a barrel.
The dollar fell to 106.89 Japanese yen from 107.55 yen on Wednesday. The euro rose to $1.1182 from $1.1131.