“The spread of the more infectious Delta variant is the key emerging threat for the time being, with COVID-19 cases on the rise again at the global level and in most of the G7 economies,” Deutsche Bank analyst Craig Nicol said in a note to clients.
MSCI‘s broadest gauge of global shares was flat in early European trading, broadly unchanged on the week, buoyed by early gains across most European markets, with Britain’s FTSE 100 up 0.6%.
That helped counter overnight weakness in Asia where MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan lost 0.4%, weighed down by a 0.8% drop each in China’s blue-chip index and Taiwanese shares.
The Asian weakness was in large part driven by lacklustre earnings from TSMC, Asia’s biggest firm by market capitalisation outside China, which saw its shares fall almost 4%.
Looking ahead, U.S. stock futures pointed to a marginally higher open, up around 0.1%.
Markets continue to be supported by ultra-easy monetary policy from most of the world’s leading central banks, yet are skittish given the coronavirus threat and concern policymaker support could be yanked too early if inflation fears rise.
Against that backdrop, all eyes continue to be trained on the U.S. Federal Reserve for any signs that its dovish policy could be about to change.
This week, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell reiterated that rising inflation is likely to be transitory and the U.S. central bank would continue to support the economy.
Yet with policymakers being guided by the data, all eyes will turn later on Friday to the latest set of U.S. retail sales data for fresh clues to the strength of the recovery, with the June print expected to show a rise after a fall in May.
Ahead of that, yields on U.S. 10-year Treasuries edged off lows to trade up 2.3 basis points at 1.320%, albeit still near the five-month low of 1.250% touched last week.
In foreign exchange, major currencies were little changed on the day but the dollar headed for its best weekly gain in about a month. It was last up 0.1% against a basket of major peers.
“Delta variants are raging in countries where vaccination is limited. In a way, the dollar and U.S. assets appear to be bought as a hedge against that,” said Arihiro Nagata, general manager of global investment at Sumitomo Mitsui Bank.
Gold on the other hand reached a one-month high of $1,834.3 per ounce before pulling back to trade down 0.4% at $1,822.6, yet remains on course for a fourth straight weekly gain on the back of the dovish Fed.
Oil prices were heading for their biggest weekly drop since at least May as expectations of more supplies spooked investors, with OPEC likely to add output to meet a potential revival in demand as more countries recover from the pandemic.
U.S. crude futures fell 22 cents to $71.43 per barrel, near last week’s low of $70.76. Brent futures slipped 20 cents to $73.27 per barrel.
For a look at all of today’s economic events, check out our economic calendar.
(Additional reporting by Swati Pandey, Sujata Rao and Dhara Ranasinghe; Editing by Sam Holmes and Mark Heinrich)