Stocks Mixed as Politics Outweigh Recovery Hopes: Live Updates


Global stocks are mixed as political tensions outweigh recovery hopes.

Asian stocks were mixed on Wednesday as heightened rhetoric between China and the United States dimmed investor hopes.

Tokyo and South Korean markets were mildly higher at midday, but Hong Kong shares ticked lower and mainland China stocks were flat, despite a big rally on Wall Street on Tuesday.

Other markets reflected the indecision. Prices for U.S. Treasury bonds were mixed, while oil traded in a narrow range on futures markets.

The drop came after President Trump said on Tuesday that the United States could offer a strong response as soon as this week to China’s effort to strengthen its hold over Hong Kong, a semiautonomous former British colony that offers economic and civil liberties that the mainland lacks. The market uncertainty also came as police flooded Hong Kong streets in anticipation of public protests against Beijing’s plans to enact a national security law that will cover the city of about seven million people.

The worries offset growing optimism about the coronavirus recovery, as officials in the United States, Europe and Japan have in recent days taken steps to reopen their economies. On Wall Street on Tuesday, the S&P 500 index ended 1.2 percent higher.

That raises questions about how they might be used. Companies and government agencies in China have a mixed record on keeping personal information safe from hacks and leaks. The authorities have also taken an expansive view of using high-tech surveillance tools in the name of public security. For now, Chinese authorities have set few limits on how the apps can be used.

Some people in China think the city of Hangzhou has gone too far. Officials in the technology hub are exploring expanding the health code to rank citizens with a “personal health index” that could include data like how much they sleep they get, how many steps they take, how much they smoke and drink and other unspecified metrics.

The proposal has met with swift criticism online in China. While the public can do little about surveillance by the central government, it has become increasingly aware of the potential for misuse by data thieves and nosy local officials.

“I know that in this age of big data, it’s so easy for those who control data to check and use personal information in a matter of minutes,” another author, Shen Jiake, wrote. But Hangzhou’s plan “crosses a line,” he said.

Wall Street shifts focus to reopening, and stocks rally.

Wall Street’s focus was on economic recovery Tuesday, and stocks rallied along with crude oil prices.

The S&P 500 rose more than 1 percent, with shares of companies most likely to benefit from the lifting of restrictions on travel and commerce faring well. Shares of Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and other big carriers rose, as did Marriott International.

Oil prices have been climbing all month as the restarting of factories and resumption of travel raised expectations that demand would rise. On Tuesday, West Texas intermediate crude rose another 3 percent, and shares of companies in the energy industry, like Chevron and Halliburton, were also higher.

It’s been a turbulent period for stocks, with the S&P 500 alternating between gains to losses on a daily basis last week, as expectations for an eventual recovery from the coronavirus pandemic have squared off against the reality that the damage is still severe and likely to continue for some time.

News of progress on vaccine development — even if small scale and early stage — has been one factor fueling the gains.

Tuesday was no exception, after the biotech company Novavax said on Monday that it was starting trials of its vaccine on humans, with preliminary results expected in July. On Tuesday, the pharmaceutical giant Merck said it bought the rights to develop a potential drug that had “potent antiviral properties against multiple coronavirus strains,” and was also beginning work on vaccine candidates.

The reopening of businesses has been another. One largely symbolic opening on Tuesday was that of the New York Stock Exchange’s trading floor. A small number of traders returned to the floor, wearing masks and following social-distancing rules, the exchange said.

Shares in Europe and Asia were also higher as investors shrugged off negative news like rising tensions between the United States and China and the combustible political situation in Hong Kong. Instead, they focused on Japanese leaders gradually lifting emergency measures there, while European leaders have also moved to ease travel restrictions.

But any gains are susceptible to a sudden change in sentiment if the reopening plans result in new outbreaks or fresh concerns about the longevity of economic slowdown emerge.

Chinese leaders meeting since last week in Beijing have stressed their efforts to create jobs and get the country back to work. But surveys and interviews show many young workers are entering into the work force in the worst market in decades.

“When it was April and I still couldn’t start my job, I started to feel worried,” said Huang Bing, 24, who graduated last year from a prestigious Chinese drama school. Her new job, set to begin this past January, ended before it began.

“I began worrying that I may not be able to work this year at all,” Ms. Huang said. “I can’t just keep waiting.”

Online, young people despair over finding a good job, with many settling for something that pays less. Many others are reluctant to relent. “The graduates do not fully understand the market,” said Martin Ma, a human resources officer for a Chinese software company. “Their expectations are quite high.”

For the world, global growth will be hard to rekindle until China gets fully back to work. But the damage to the Communist Party could be long-lasting. It derives its political power from the promise of delivering a better life for the Chinese people, a promise that has become increasingly difficult to fulfill.

Hoping to take advantage of wreckage in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, investors are preparing to snap up commercial real estate at rock-bottom prices.

Long before states and cities closed businesses and issued stay-at-home orders, many real estate funds were stockpiling cash and waiting for a buyer’s market. Some have raised billions of dollars in the last several weeks.

As a result, investment firms are sitting on roughly $300 billion of equity ready for deployment, said Douglas M. Weill, a founder of Hodes Weill & Associates, a global real estate capital advisory firm in New York. “It’s a staggering amount of dry powder,” he said.

Every commercial property owner has its specific problems, but mom-and-pop landlords that own a handful of apartment buildings, retail centers or other assets are in a much more compromised position, said Sanford D. Sigal, president and chief executive of NewMark Merrill, a shopping center owner and manager in Woodland Hills, Calif.

“Very few small owners are equipped for this type of market,” said Mr. Sigal, who expected to collect about 57 percent of his May rent from tenants across some 70 properties in California, Colorado and Illinois. “I’ve seen more deals in the past week that were worth looking at than I did in the entire prior year.”

Catch up: Here’s what else is happening.

  • The stock trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange reopened on Tuesday, though at a reduced head count to allow space for social distancing measures to remain in force. Floor brokers and trading floor officials will be allowed back, while designated market makers — the specialist traders who buy and sell in order to “make markets” in certain securities — will continue to operate remotely.

  • Latam, the largest airline in Latin America, said on Tuesday it had filed for bankruptcy protection, the latest carrier to fall victim to the pandemic. The company, based in Santiago, Chile, said it had secured $900 million in financing from major shareholders, including the Cueto and Amaro families and Qatar Airlines, and that it would work with creditors to reduce its debt while it continues operating. Avianca, Colombia’s flagship airline and one of the world’s oldest carriers, filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this month.

Reporting was contributed by Carlos Tejada Mohammed Hadi, Joe Gose and Mary Williams Walsh.



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