Stock markets across Europe and most of Asia are in retreat Thursday after new survey data showed the Eurozone’s recovery faltering and China’s manufacturing sector at its weakest in a year.
The data hit markets already unsettled by the Eurozone’s failure to find a solution to Greece’s debt crisis. European markets have reacted badly to a stream of news showing how fast Greece is running out of money, and how close it might be to defaulting.
The first shock came from China, where the Markit-HSBC Purchasing Managers’ Index for April fell to 49.2, its lowest level in 12 months and well below the index level of 50 that implies stable levels of activity. Production eked out a small gain, but the key manufacturing sector continued to shed jobs, while prices dropped even more sharply than in previous months, suggesting that action by the authorities to stem the trend of deflation hadn’t yet fed through into the real economy. A small rise in export orders wasn’t enough to offset a faster decline in orders for new business from domestic companies.
The news still wasn’t enough to dent the confidence in the bubbling Chinese stock market. The Shanghai Composite index notched its highest closing level in over seven years, a 0.4% rise on the day being the closest thing to ‘disappointment’ that locals could muster. The Asia Dow fell 0.4%, however, driven by Hong Kong and Indian stocks.
China reported earlier this month that growth slowed to its lowest rate in 20 years in the first quarter of this year. Beijing is keen to stress that the development is normal, and to be welcomed, as it tries to focus more on the quality of its growth. But the Chinese central bank had to resort to its biggest monetary policy easing in over a year last weekend to keep a “soft landing” for the economy in sight.
There was more bad news later from Markit’s PMIs for the Eurozone. The French and German manufacturing PMIs both fell short of expectations, France’s dropping to 48.4 from 48.8 while Germany’s fell to 51.9 from 52.8.
By lunchtime in Europe, the German DAX index was off 1.3% and the French CAC-40 off 0.8%. Both have enjoyed strong rallies so far this year as investors have bet heavily on a cheaper euro bolstering profits at the exporters who dominate both indexes. But that narrative has started to tire in the last week, as news out of Greece has reminded everyone how badly wrong things can still go.
As it was, Greek-specific fears appeared to ease Thursday, with the country’s bond yields falling to their lowest levels in a week as Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras prepared to meet Germany’s Angela Merkel on the sidelines of an E.U. summit later.
The summit is actually devoted to addressing the E.U.’s failure to stem a humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean. Over 1,600 refugees have drowned this year while trying to reach Europe from Libya and the Middle East, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.
Greece’s financial problems are due to be discussed in greater depth Friday by the Eurogroup, the college of Eurozone finance ministers, at a meeting in Riga, Latvia. No conclusive deal is expected, however.