By Lorcan Roche Kelly
Concerns are growing that the increase in cases of coronavirus outside China suggests a wider regional epidemic. The Chinese province at the center of the outbreak revised how it counts cases for the third time this month, raising more questions on the reliability of the data. The number of deaths worldwide now stand at 2,247. Expert opinion remains divided on the spread of infection, and when it will peak.
Key gauges of manufacturing activity in Asia show that economies in the region are already taking a hit from the measures taken to contain coronavirus. A Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index for Japan dropped to 47.6, while a composite PMI for Australia fell to 48.3. In Europe, it was a more mixed story with euro-zone economic activity surprisingly picking up to the fastest pace in six months as Markit’s Composite PMI for February at 51.6. Manufacturing in the region contracted by less than expected. In the U.K. manufacturing showed an expansion, growing at the fastest pace in 10 months.
Wells Fargo & Co. will pay roughly $3 billion to settle federal investigations into a range of customer abuses that were rife at the bank for years, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter. The company, which has lost two chief executive officers since the scandal broke in 2016, isn’t expected to plead guilty to any crime. Speaking of CEOs, the current round of musical chairs for European bank heads seems set to continue, with UniCredit SpA Chief Executive Officer Jean Pierre Mustier emerging as one of the main external candidates for the top role at HSBC Holdings Plc.
The increase in cases outside China and weakening growth prospects in the region has investors seeking safety. Overnight, the MSCI Asia Pacific Index slipped 0.5% while Japan’s Topix index closed broadly unchanged, erasing an earlier advance driven by yen weakness. In Europe, the Stoxx 600 Index was down 0.2% by 5:45 a.m. Eastern Time with energy stocks the worst performers as crude prices gave up some recent gains. S&P 500 futures pointed to further losses at the open, the 10-year Treasury yield was at 1.488% — below 1.5% for the first time since September — and gold rallied.
Today’s economic data starts north of the border with Canadian retail sales at 8:30 a.m. February Markit PMIs for the U.S. are published at 9:45 a.m. Existing home sales data for January is at 10:00 a.m. It is another busy day for monetary policy fans with Dallas Fed President Robert Kaplan, Fed Governor Lael Brainard, Atlanta Fed President Raphael Bostic, Fed Vice Chair Richard Clarida and Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester all speaking.