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Shares struggle against rising bond yields

·3-min read

Global shares have struggled to avoid a fourth straight day of losses as data showed euro zone business activity slowing in February, while German and British 10-year bond yields touched multi-month highs, driven up by bets on rising inflation.

The pan European index was up 0.1 per cent but still set for its first weekly loss in February, as IHS Markit's flash composite PMI nudged closer to the 50 mark separating growth from contraction.

London's FTSE index was 0.1 per cent weaker as data showed British retail sales tumbled in January.

Hermes shares jumped 5.7 per cent as the Birkin bag maker said sales recovered sharply in the fourth quarter.

The MSCI world equity benchmark was up 0.1 per cent. MSCI's broadest index of Asia Pacific shares outside of Japan was last down 0.1 per cent at 733.9 from a record high of 745.89 touched on Thursday.

E-mini futures for the S&P 500 were broadly flat.

Global shares have been fuelled in recent months largely by easy monetary and fiscal policies around the world and initial rollouts of COVID-19 vaccines.

"It's kind of odd to think that only a year ago investors were worried about depression and deflation and now they are worried about overheating and inflation," said Shane Oliver, an economist for AMP.

"The big-picture backdrop of still-low underlying inflation and spare capacity in jobs markets, combined with economic and profit recovery and low interest rates, is a positive one for growth assets, particularly shares," he said.

Core bond yields have pushed higher globally, led by the so-called reflation trade, where investors wager on a pick-up in growth and inflation. Growing momentum for coronavirus vaccine programs and hopes of massive fiscal spending under US President Joe Biden have spurred reflation trades.

German benchmark 10-year bond yields were set for their worst week since mid-June. They were up in early trade on Friday. British 10-year yields traded at a 11-month top of 0.66 per cent and US Treasury yields are not far from one-year highs around 1.3 per cent.

Rising bond yields hurt the appeal of gold, with spot prices dropping to a seven-month low before recouping some losses to trade at $1,773 per ounce.

"The reflation-narrative-driven selloff in bond yields really has now developed a life of its own," said James Athey, investment director at Aberdeen Standard Investments. "It is starting to move real yields higher, which is increasingly suggestive of a market which is testing central bank resolve." Disappointing US jobless figures didn't help investor sentiment.

An unexpected increase in the number of Americans seeking jobless benefits weighed on the outlook. The Labor Department on Thursday reported initial unemployment claims rose by 13,000 to 861,000, injecting scepticism about how quickly the US economy could rebound from the global pandemic.

Further, US housing starts fell 6.0 per cent in January, the first decline in five months.

In currencies, the poor US data helped the dollar slip further and the euro rebound. The dollar slipped 0.1 per cent against a basket of currencies, putting the dollar index at 90.474.

The British pound has been the standout performer in 2021, and on Friday it rose to $1.40, a near three-year high amid Britain's aggressive vaccination program.

Bitcoin, which some see as a hedge against inflation, hit a record high of $52,757, gaining more than 2 per cent on the day.

In commodities, oil markets saw some profit-taking following days of gains driven by a deep freeze across Texas that weighed on production.

Brent crude fell 1.5 per cent to at $62.99 a barrel. US crude futures slipped 1.9 per cent to $59.39 a barrel.