Hong Kong tensions rattle world stock markets, oil tumbles

Herbert Lash and Dhara Ranasinghe
FILE PHOTO: Floor traders work space is seen on the trading floor after the closing bell, following traders positive for Coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at the NYSE in New York

By Herbert Lash and Dhara Ranasinghe

NEW YORK/LONDON (Reuters) - Oil prices tumbled and global equity markets fell on Friday as China's move to impose a new security law on Hong Kong further strained U.S.-China relations and clouded economic recovery prospects.

China also dropped its annual growth target for the first time, adding to uncertainty about the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, boosting safe-haven investments such as U.S. Treasuries <US10YT=RR> and the dollar.

China said it would impose new national security legislation on Hong Kong, leading President Donald Trump to warn that Washington would react "very strongly" against any attempt to gain more control over the former British colony.

Emerging market shares slid -2.72%. Stocks in Europe closed mostly flat and on Wall Street finished mixed as investors prepared for a long weekend in the United States, the UK and elsewhere.

After trading lower most of the session, Wall Street trended upward in late trading, with the S&P and the Dow managing to finish higher.

"The market just keeps battling higher, it just wants to go higher," said Tim Ghriskey, chief investment strategist at Inverness Counsel in New York. "It's anticipating improvement and we've seen all the bad news."

Tensions between the world's two largest economies have risen in recent weeks, with Washington ramping up criticism of China over the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, raising fears the rhetoric could crimp economic growth.

The U.S. Commerce Department said late in the session that it is adding 33 Chinese companies and other institutions to a blacklist for human rights violations and to address U.S. national security concerns.

The resurgent U.S.-China standoff weighed on oil prices.

"You have these doubts over China that is triggering this sell-off in oil, and it's going to gain steam. If oil sells off, it's hard to have a strong stock market," said Ed Moya, senior market analyst at OANDA in New York.

Of major asset classes, crude oil has rebounded the most off the year's lows on hopes world economies will soon recover from coronavirus-induced business shutdowns, he said, adding that he believed oil's rally was overdone.

"There's just too much uncertainty, and that's going to likely keep on weighing on risk appetite," Moya said.

MSCI's all-country world stock index <.MIWD00000PUS> shed 0.40%, but the pan-European STOXX 600 index <.STOXX> closed down just 0.3%.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average <.DJI> fell 8.96 points, or 0.04%, to 24,465.16. The S&P 500 <.SPX> gained 6.94 points, or 0.24%, to 2,955.45, and the Nasdaq Composite <.IXIC> added 39.71 points, or 0.43%, to 9,324.59.

Earlier in Asia, Hong Kong's Hang Seng index <.HSI> slid more than 5% to a seven-week low, its biggest daily percentage fall since 2015. MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan <.MIAPJ0000PUS> lost 2.7%; Japan's Nikkei <.N225> fell 0.8%.

Analysts said extensive central bank stimulus continues to underpin sentiment and buoy equity markets.

Japan's central bank unveiled a lending program to channel nearly $280 billion to small businesses hit by the coronavirus. India slashed rates for a second time this year and the European Central Bank, in the minutes from its last meeting, said it was ready to expand emergency bond purchases as early as June.

U.S. crude <CLc1> fell 67 cents to settle at $33.25 a barrel, paring about half earlier losses of more than 5%. Brent <LCOc1> settled at $35.13, down 93 cents on the day.

The dollar index <=USD> rose 0.331%, with the euro <EUR=> down 0.42% to $1.0903. The Japanese yen <JPY=> strengthened 0.01% versus the greenback at 107.62 per dollar.

Benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury yields fell 0.2 basis points to 0.6574% <US10YT=RR>.

Spot gold <XAU=> added 0.5% and U.S. gold futures <GCv1> settled up 0.8% at $1,735.50 an ounce.


(Reporting by Dhara Ranasinghe and Herbert Lash; Editing by Dan Grebler, David Gregorio and Leslie Adler)