Oil hits five-month lows, Asian shares extend losses on renewed virus fears

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Oil prices hit five-month lows and shares extended losses on Monday on worries about global demand as many economies slid back into coronavirus-induced lockdowns while upcoming U.S. presidential elections led to heightened caution.

FILE PHOTO: Men wearing protective face masks chat in front of a screen displaying Nikkei share average and world stock indexes outside a brokerage, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Tokyo, Japan October 5, 2020. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo

Risk appetite has taken a hit in the past week on the back of rising coronavirus cases and lockdowns, fears of the prospect of a tightly contested U.S. presidential election, absence of a pre-election U.S. fiscal stimulus and gloomy corporate outlook.

Global coronavirus cases surpassed 500,000 last week with Europe crossing the bleak milestone of 10 million total infections. The United Kingdom is grappling with more than 20,000 new cases a day while a record surge of U.S. cases is killing up to 1,000 people a day.

Fresh coronavirus-induced lockdowns have raised concerns over the outlook for fuel consumption, sending Brent crude LCOC1 to a low of $35.74 per barrel, a level not seen since late May. U.S. crude went as low as $33.64. [O/R]

Underwhelming outlooks and results from some of Wall Street’s largest companies last week, including Apple AAPL.O and Facebook FB.O, further soured the mood and dragged U.S. stocks lower last week. [.N]

On Monday, MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS held near one-month lows at 569.86, down 0.1%.

Japan’s Nikkei .N225 was up 0.6%.

Australian shares .AXJO were down 0.1% while New Zealand’s benchmark index eased 0.6%.

“It’s going to be a big week with the U.S. election on Tuesday being the main event,” said AMP economist Shane Oliver.

“The U.S. election has tightened further over the last week, making it harder to call,” Oliver added.

“The tightening is likely weighing on shares as it implies an increased risk of a contested election and less chance of substantial post-election fiscal stimulus to the extent that a blue wave that sees the Democrats win the presidency, control of the Senate and the House may be somewhat less likely.”

Ahead of the last campaign weekend, Republican President Donald Trump trails Democratic challenger Joe Biden in national opinion polls partly because of widespread disapproval of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus.

Opinion polls in the most competitive states that will decide the election have shown a closer race, still favouring Biden.

In currencies, the risk-sensitive Australian dollar AUD=D3 slipped 0.4% to go below 70 U.S. cents for the first time since July. It was last at $0.7007.

The Japanese yen JPY= strengthened a bit to 104.57 per dollar, while the British pound GBP= was last a shade weaker at $1.2927. The euro EUR= was down 0.1% at $1.1639.

That left the dollar index, which measures the greenback against a basket of peers, up 0.08% =USD.

A risk-on revival after the U.S. election could however see the dollar resume its slide from the March highs, analysts said.

JPMorgan analysts said the market likely views a Biden win as “short-term neutral” but “long-term negative” as his expected tax policy outweighs the benefits from a large stimulus package.

“SPX may have upside to ~3400, but it would have larger downside depending on the details of the package, potentially to ~2,500,” they added.

On Friday, the S&P 500 .SPX lost 1.21% to close at 3,269.96. The Nasdaq Composite .IXIC dropped 2.45% while the Dow .DJI fell 0.6%.

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