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Global stocks plunge as tensions flare between Hong Kong and Beijing

May 22, 2020, 9:14 AM UTC

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Happy Friday, everyone. Tensions between the Chinese government and Hong Kong are rattling global markets. It looks like we’ll be closing off the week on a down note.

Let’s check in on the action.

Markets update

Asia

  • The major indices are falling hard this morning, led down by Hong Kong’s Hang Seng, off 5%, the biggest one-day drop since 2015.
  • Investors are spooked by Beijing’s move to clamp down on Hong Kong with a new security law designed to muzzle the pro-democracy movement. Cue U.S. sanctions.
  • Meanwhile, China surprisingly abandoned its usual practice of setting an economic growth target for 2020. Scores of companies around the world have done so during the pandemic. Add the world’s No. 2 economy to the list. Even still, China appears to be seeing a V-shaped recovery.

Europe

  • The European bourses crashed out of the gates. The bluechip Stoxx Europe 600 was down 1.5% at the open.
  • Forza! Italy sold a record €22.3 billion ($25 billion) worth of “COVID-19 emergency” bonds, the brunt of which were gobbled up by retail investors, a sign of confidence in the embattled Conte government.
  • Vladimir Putin wants to run Russia through at least 2036, a power play that’s been thrown off course by the coronavirus crisis. Until now. He’s expected to announce a snap ballot to change the constitution allowing him to sidestep term limits.

U.S.

  • The Dow, S&P 500 and Nasdaq futures are trading lower, looking to extend yesterday’s losses.
  • Retailers have been in the spotlight as we reach the end of earnings season. Best Buy saw a hit to its top-line last quarter, but it’s found a new popular feature for customers: appointment-only “concierge” pickup.
  • When a few trillions aren’t enough—Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says Congress may need to pass more stimulus legislation to help out America’s struggling businesses and families. After yesterday’s jobless numbers, that discussion should heat up.

Elsewhere

  • Gold is up, as is the dollar. Yep, it’s a risk-off day.
  • Crude is falling, hurt by the Beijing-Hong Kong volatility. Brent is down 4%, below $35/gallon.

By the Numbers

38.6 million. Jobless numbers again kick off our weekly data roundup. 38.6 million workers in the United States have now filed for unemployment benefits over the past nine weeks. Yesterday’s tally of roughly 2.4 million jobless claims was roughly 300,000 lower than the prior week, but bang in line with analysts’ consensus. It’s now fallen seven straight weeks, but not fast enough to come anywhere near pre-crisis levels. The real unemployment rate could be as high as 22.5%, well above the lagging official rate (14.7%) announced earlier this month.

1 in 4. I’m borrowing this data point from Lance Lambert’s great Fortune Analytics newsletter, available to Premium subscribers. Every week I pore through it as he packs it with all kinds of proprietary data and sharp analysis… Nearly one-quarter of business leaders see more employees continuing to work-from-home even once operations fully reopen. Companies on both sides of the Atlantic—from Twitter and Facebook to the UK bank, RBS—are giving staff this option. This will create a profound shift in the way we work, the way companies recruit talent and manage operations.

3.9%. The Nasdaq closed at 9,284.51 yesterday, but the tech-laden index is up nearly 4% over the past five trading sessions. Crossing the 9,000 mark this past week was a big deal as it’s solidly in the green for the whole of 2020. The uncertainty over the Chinese government’s actions in Hong Kong is sure to rattle global markets. It will be interesting to see whether that pushes even more investors back into Big Tech.

Postscript

For 10 long weeks, we here in Rome have been living in a kind of purgatory: a city full of masterpieces—from Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel to Bernini’s sculpture Apollo and Daphne to Marcel Duchamp’s urinal—all off-limits to the public. That changed this week as the government finally eased lockdown measures, allowing museums, churches, restaurants and bars to re-open.

For the occasion, I teamed up with my colleagues in New York to develop a photo essay of what life looks like here in Rome. Take a look.

A man wearing a protective mask sands with his back to the sculpture “Apollo and Daphne” realized by the Italian Artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini, at the Galleria Borghese in Rome. Bernini captures Daphne’s transformation into a laurel tree in a stunning sculpture. Wire photography: Antonio Masiello—Getty Images.

***

Have a nice weekend, everyone. I’ll see you here on Tuesday. Bull Sheet is off on Monday for the Memorial Day (U.S.) and the Spring Bank Holiday (U.K.)

Bernhard Warner
@BernhardWarner
Bernhard.Warner@Fortune.com

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Market candy

Quiz time

It's Friday, time for my final Fortune 500-themed "Market candy" item of the week. A reminder: the list went live on the site on Monday. Ready for the quiz?

Question: How many female CEOs now run Fortune 500 companies?

  • a) 22
  • b) 29 
  • c) 37

Answer: yes, it's 37—up four from last year. That's the highest number of female CEOs in Fortune 500 history.