Investors shake off China slump and jobs gloom, sending global markets higher

April 17, 2020, 9:41 AM UTC

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Happy Friday, everyone. The global markets are climbing even as China reports an historic hit to its GDP.

Let’s head in that direction now.

Markets update


  • The major indices are all in the green, with the Nikkei leading the way 3% higher.
  • Hong Kong and Shanghai exchanges are climbing too despite China recording its coronavirus-walloped economy contracted by 6.8% in Q1, the worst performance in decades.
  • There’s another dose of bad news in China. Officials on Friday revised up by 50% the Wuhan COVID-19 death toll. Just this week President Trump had cast fresh doubts on the data coming out of China.


  • European bourses look to extend Thursday’s gain. The benchmark Stoxx Europe 600 opened 2.1% higher and were gaining, as I type. Europe’s carmakers stand out, with BMW leading the way.
  • It’s a mixed picture on the coronavirus front, however. New infections ticked up yesterday in Italy, France, Spain and Germany (though the death toll and hospitalization figures continues to show improvement) just as some of these economies plan gradual re-openings.
  • And fault lines continue to show in the not-so-united European Union. If the EU is to “hold on” through the crisis, the bloc needs to strike an agreement on “financial transfers and solidarity,” French president Emanuel Macron warned. Fortune‘s Jeremy Kahn reveals how the coronavirus crisis is pulling the EU apart.


  • The Dow, S&P 500 and Nasdaq look to open higher again today, as I type. If they hold these gains, it would break this up-down-up-down cycle we’ve been stuck in over the past week.
  • The coronavirus news flow looks grim. The Wall Street Journal crunched the numbers, and found that U.S. deaths hit 4,591 in a 24-hour span, an ignominious record.
  • And then there’s yesterday’s jobless claims. We cover that below.


  • If equities are up, then the gold must be… yep, it’s down.
  • The dollar is flat.
  • Crude is mixed. WTI crude continues to sink lower; it hit a day-low of $18.31. Brent crude is flat.

By the numbers

1992. You have to go back 28 years to find such bad China GDP numbers. The economy shrunk by 6.8% in Q1, on a year-on-year basis. China is a bellwether. The reopening of its factories, shops and restaurants is being watched the world over for clues on how long it will take for a major economy to bounce back after an extended lockdown. Before the pandemic, the Chinese economy had been steadily growing at a pace of about 6%, so the drop-off is significant. Still, it’s not as bad as some economists were expecting. But it’s reviving a big question: time for another stimulus?

22 million. That’s how many Americans have filed for unemployment benefits in the past month. Yesterday’s jobless claims number came in at 5.2 million, slightly better than economists’ forecasts. The markets must have liked that number as all three indices ended higher yesterday. Still, there’s little to cheer in these numbers. Fortune‘s Lance Lambert calculates the real unemployment rate is now at 17.9% vs. the lagging official unemployment rate of 4.4%.

18.5. Every time I look up this morning at the price of WTI, the American crude oil standard, it falls. Earlier in the week it hit an 18-year-low, and it’s only gotten worse since then. In fact, it’s fallen about 18.5% in the last seven days. So much for that Hail Mary of an OPEC+ deal. Veteran investors will probably recognize how wild it is to see equities climbing and crude falling. The two have completely decoupled.


A big thanks to the many Bull Sheet readers who emailed me yesterday with advice on my wife’s Canadian dollar FX conundrum. I learned quite a bit about the merits of currency hedges, among other things. I have passed that information along to her. She’s incredibly grateful. I promise to update you on that story in the future.

Today I want to talk about something much more mundane: hair. I don’t have as much of it as I used to. In normal times, I keep it trimmed short and neat. Nothing special. After leaving my nothing-special ‘do to grow wild over the past two months, I’ve been getting a lot of grief from my fellow cellmates here.

Under lockdown, with barber shops and fancy salons shut, Italians have resorted to downright criminal acts to get a decent trim. The cops continue to bust outlaw hair stylists who do house calls.

Not wanting to risk such trouble, my kids have devised a plan B. They’ll cut my hair. They chatter about it every night at dinner while I roll my eyes. But yesterday there was a big development. A package arrived, a new set of hair clippers. And so last night’s discussion about my hair took on more urgency.

One daughter got up from the table to inspect the back of my head, the uneven curls and tufts behind my ears. The other one fussed with the top of my head, asking me, in Italian, how I want my bangs.

“Ciuffo ribelle?” she asked.

I translated aloud, “Rebel bangs? That’s a thing?”

My wife withheld comment. As the girls chirped about the coiffure possibilities, I pulled out my smartphone and googled “ciuffo ribelle.” I got pictures of Meghan Markle.

I then tried it in English. “Rebel tuft,” I typed. I got this creature, which has its own Facebook fan page.

Apparently, poor little Pipino is in lockdown too.

We never reached a consensus. I just want a neat trim. The girls are convinced this is the start of a whole new me. A rebel me, apparently.

So in addition to DIY pizza, a DIY haircut is on the agenda this weekend. What could go wrong?

Have a nice weekend, everyone. I’ll see you here on Monday, possibly looking a bit different.

Bernhard Warner

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Today's reads

The German word for... When German hair salon owner Andrea Mayr asked for a $16,300 state grant to help her business weather the coronavirus crisis, she was surprised to find the money in her account the next day. It's called Kurzarbeit. Business owners in many other countries can only dream of such efficiency, writes Fortune’s David Meyer.

Spending with purpose. How do you get the most bang for your buck if you want to use your $1,200 (or more) stimulus check to help boost the economy? One way is to shop local as that business owner is much more likely to put the proceeds back into the local economy. Another idea is to book travel and airline tickets now (for later in the year), as that could help companies' revenue and cash liquidity, writes Fortune’s Anne Sraders.

The handbag indicator. Sales of luxury goods and cosmetics are showing signs of recovering from the coronavirus slump in China, the biggest market for expensive handbags and fashion. Sales in Louis Vuitton stores in mainland China are up about 50% in the past three weeks compared with a year ago. L’Oreal sales in China are on track for a gain of 5% to 10% this month. Both French companies had a painful first quarter, with LVMH’s comparable sales falling 17% and L’Oreal’s sales down  nearly 5%, Bloomberg reports.

Market candy


As in 16%. That’s how much Gilead Sciences’ shares surged in after-hours trading Thursday after a report that Covid-19 patients being treated with its drug in Chicago were “seeing rapid recoveries in fever and respiratory symptoms.” Stat, a medical news publication, quoted Kathleen Mullane, a University of Chicago researcher who is helping conduct a trial of Gilead’s drug remdesivir, as saying that most patients had been discharged from the hospital and only two had died.

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