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Equities

Indexes on both sides of the border sank at the opening bell on Thursday as the rising number of cases of the coronavirus continues to fuel volatility even as central banks vault into action.

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At 9:49 a.m. ET, the Toronto Stock Exchange’s S&P/TSX composite index was down 206.48 points, or 1.23 per cent, at 16,573.05.

Energy shares fell 2.2 per cent while financial stocks were off 1.7 per cent. The materials sector, which includes gold miners, was up 0.2 per cent on higher prices.

In the U.S., the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 418.94 points, or 1.55 per cent, at the open to 26,671.92.

The S&P 500 opened lower by 54.42 points, or 1.74 per cent, at 3,075.70. The Nasdaq Composite dropped 228 points, or 2.53 per cent, to 8,790.09 at the opening bell.

So far this week, the Federal Reserve and the Bank of Canada have both cut interest rates by half a percentage point, citing the negative economic impact of the virus. Markets have also priced in a 90-per-cent chance that the European Central Bank will also cut its key rate next week. Although the Dow and S&P rallied more than 5 per cent on Wednesday while the TSX jumped more than 350 points, analysts warn that central bank moves alone won’t ease market concerns.

“It is clear, investors around the world now believe that the monetary policy alone cannot tackle another financial crisis, given that the starting point for the interest rates is already extremely low and rock-bottom interest rates prove to be increasingly inefficient to fuel investment,” Ipek Ozkardeskaya, Senior Analyst at Swissquote Bank, said.

U.S. markets drew some additional support on Wednesday after Washington announced an $8-billion spending plan to help fight the spread of the virus. The IMF also announced a $50-billion aid package.

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Airline stocks continued to struggle after the International Air Transport Association said the industry could take a hit of more than US$100-billion this year as a result of the spread of the virus. Air Canada shares were down more than 7 per cent in Toronto. In New York, Delta Air Lines stock was down nearly 5 per cent while American Airlines shares fell more than 7 per cent on the Nasdaq.

On the corporate side, Canadian Natural Resources raised its quarterly dividend to 42.5 cents a share, from 37.5 cents. The move came as the company reported adjusted earnings of $686-million or 58 cents per diluted share from operations for the quarter compared with an adjusted loss from operations of $255-million or 21 cents per diluted share in the same quarter a year earlier. Analysts on average had expected an adjusted profit of 70 cents per diluted share for the quarter, according to financial markets data firm Refinitiv. Shares were down more than 1 per cent just after the start of trading in Toronto.

After Wednesday’s close, MEG Energy Corp. reported earnings per share of 9 cents on quarterly revenue of $992-million. Analysts had been looking for earnings of 9 cents on revenue of $817.9-million in the quarter. MEG also said its full-year free cash flow totalled $528-million.

Elsewhere, cannabis producer Canopy Growth Corp. says it will close two greenhouses in British Columbia and lay off 500 employees as it looks to slow its cash burn and bring its production in line with lower-than-expected demand. The moves are expected to result in a pretax charge of between $700-million and $800-million, the company said. Canopy shares were down more than 3 per cent in early trading.

Overseas, the pan-European STOXX 600 was down 1.86 per cent by afternoon. Britain’s FTSE 100 was off 1.93 per cent. Germany’s DAX fell 1.99 per cent and France’s CAC 40 lost 2.14 per cent.

In Asia, major indexes ended higher, taking their cue from Wednesday’s surge on Wall Street. Japan’s Nikkei rose 1.09 per cent. The Shanghai Composite Index gained 1.99 per cent and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng advanced 2.08 per cent.

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Commodities

Crude prices gained as after OPEC agreed to cut output by another 1.5 million barrels a day to offset the hit to demand from the coronavirus, although the move depends on Russia’s participation.

The day range on Brent so far is US$50.71 to US$52.04. The range on West Texas Intermediate is US$46.42 to US$47.57.

Early Thursday, OPEC agreed to cut oil output by an extra 1.5 million barrels per day (bpd) in the second quarter of 2020 to bolster prices that have been hit by the virus outbreak. However, the cut was made conditional on Russia and others joining in. So far, Russia has been reluctant to agree to further reductions in production.

Russia’s energy minister returned to Moscow on Wednesday for consultations but was due back in Vienna for the broader OPEC+ meeting on Friday, according to Reuters. So far Russia has been reluctant to support calls for deeper cuts.

“Crude oil prices are starting to give back early gains as it becomes apparent that there are differences of opinion about the level of production cuts at today’s OPEC+ meeting,” Michael Hewson, chief market analyst with CMC Markets U.K., said early Thursday.

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AxiCorp strategist Stephen Innes says Russia appears to favour limiting the OPEC+ response to keeping current production cuts in place.

“The enormous glaring issue is that while cuts will help normalize oil demand and inventories later this year, they can’t prevent an already-started considerable oil inventory accumulation in both the U.S. and China,” Mr. Innes said.

Gold prices, meanwhile, edged higher as investors again shifted to ward safer holdings.

Spot gold was up 0.2 per cent at US$1,637.89 per ounce. U.S. gold futures were down 0.3 per cent at US$1,638.70.

“(The virus) has spread to over 80 countries and tensions are escalating day-by-day; investors don’t know what will happen next and they prefer investing in gold because of its safe-haven appeal,” Hareesh V, head of commodity research at Geojit Financial Services, told Reuters.

Currencies

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The Canadian dollar was down in early going after the Bank of Canada cut interest rates by a half percentage point and signalled it was prepared to go further is the coronavirus crisis deepens.

The day range on the loonie so far is 74.57 US cents to 74.72 US cents.

In Wednesday’s policy announcement, the central bank cited “a material negative shock” to the Canadian and global outlooks as a result of the spread of the virus.

“As it stands, the CAD has weathered the rate cut with a fair degree of civility,” Shawn Osborne, chief FX strategist for Scotiabank, said in a note issued after the central bank’s announcement.

He said, given that weaker growth and lower energy prices had markets already leaning toward the idea of a rate cut, the only big question going into Wednesday’s policy announcement was how big the central bank’s move would be.

“But with about 40-45 basis points of a 50-basis-point cut priced in ahead of decision time, even that was not a great surprise,” he said. “A dovish policy statement leaves the door wide open to another cut in the next few weeks, we think.”

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On Thursday afternoon, Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz delivers the bank’s economic progress report during remarks in Toronto. The speech will be followed by a news conference, with markets paying close attention for hints about the bank’s likely moves in the future.

On global markets, the U.S. dollar struggled as traders price in more moves by the Federal Reserve. That central bank made reference to the virus more than 40 times in its Beige Book, released Wednesday afternoon.

Money markets were pricing in another 25-basis-point cut at the next Fed meeting on March 18-19 and a 50 basis point cut by April.

The U.S. dollar remained close to the two-month low of 1.1214 it reached against the euro on Tuesday, last trading 0.4 per cent lower at 1.1175. The dollar was also down against the yen, falling 0.7 per cent to 106.81 , a five-month low.

In bonds, the yield on the U.S. 10-year note again slipped back below 1 per cent. The yield on the note was at 0.963 per cent just before 6 a.m. ET.

More company news

Shaw Communications said president Jay Mehr will retire effective April 9. Shaw has named Paul McAleese as its next president. In a release, Shaw said Mr. McAleese joined the company three years ago and has demonstrated a strong track record of delivering profitable wireless growth, instilling operational discipline and building high-performing teams.

HP Inc on Thursday rejected Xerox Holdings Corp’s raised bid of about US$35-billion, saying that the offer still undervalued the personal computer maker. The U.S. printer maker had increased its offer last month by US$2 to US$24 per share, following rejections of its previous buyout offers by the PC maker. “Our message to HP shareholders is clear: the Xerox offer undervalues HP and disproportionately benefits Xerox shareholders at the expense of HP shareholders,” Chip Bergh, chair of HP’s board, said on Thursday.

German fashion house Hugo Boss warned that the coronavirus will have a significant impact on its first-quarter results, with sales falling particularly in Asia, but also in other key markets. Hugo Boss said it expects a gradual normalization by the middle of the year and forecast that currency-adjusted sales will rise from zero to 2 per cent for the full year, including a single digit decline in Asia/Pacific.

U.S. Supermarket chain Kroger Co topped fourth-quarter profit and sales estimates, helped by higher demand for its high-margin private-label brands. Excluding one-time items, the company earned 57 US cents per share, beating analysts’ average estimate of 55 US cents, according to IBES data from Refinitiv. Sales rose 2.1 per cent to US$28.89-billion, beating analysts’ estimate of US$28.87-billion.

Economic news

Initial claims for U.S. state unemployment benefits fell by 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 216,000 for the week ended Feb. 29, the U.S. Labor Department said. Figures for the prior week were unrevised.

The Labor Department said Thursday that productivity grew at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.2 per cent in the fourth quarter, down from an initial estimate of 1.4 per cent growth.

(10 a.m. ET) U.S. factory orders for January. Consensus is a decline of 0.2 per cent from December.

(12:45 p.m. ET) Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz presents the Economic Progress Report in Toronto.

With Reuters and The Canadian Press

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