World stocks fell on Friday, as worries about a threatened U.S. military strike against Iran and a global trade conflict took the edge off a central bank-induced rally from earlier in the week.
The New York Times said U.S. President Donald Trump approved military strikes against Iran on Friday in retaliation for the downing of an unmanned surveillance drone, then pulled back from launching the attacks.
Iranian officials told Reuters on Friday that Tehran had received a message from U.S. President Donald Trump through Oman warning that a U.S. attack on Iran was imminent.
Worries over possible military strikes persist, and the MSCI world equity index, which tracks shares in 47 countries, fell from a seven-week high, driven mostly by weakness in Asian stocks. A rally by European stocks also faded, though a pan-European index was higher on the day.
“ … Market risk hasn’t been switched off, it’s merely gone dim,” said Stephen Innes, managing partner at Vanguard Markets.
“However, it does appear equity markets are tired and may be suffering from a bit of a hangover after partying it up to post FOMC.”
A Federal Reserve Open Market Committee meeting this week opened the door to rate cuts in the United States.
Earlier, MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan lost 0.15 per cent.
The index was still up nearly 4% on the week, during which it reached its highest level since May 8.
The Shanghai Composite Index rose 0.5 per cent, Australian stocks declined 0.6% and Japan’s Nikkei shed 0.8 per cent.
The promise of rate cuts from both the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank has kept sentiment strong in stock markets. Wall Street rose to record highs overnight, with the S&P 500 gaining nearly a per cent
But tensions remain elevated, and safe-haven gold advanced to a six-year high of $1,410.78 an ounce on Friday, boosted by the geopolitical tensions and the prospect of a U.S. rate cut. At one stage, gold was up nearly five per cent on the week.
“While lower real rates in the U.S. and globally make gold more attractive, the metal is being increasingly viewed as a cardinal asset to hedge against the scrim of unpredictability like the fear of recession and war,” Innes said.
Meanwhile, China and the United States are set to resume trade talks before Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping meet next week in Japan.
Hopes of an agreement grew after the two leaders talked by telephone call, but neither side has signaled a shift from positions that led to an impasse last month.
The Fed’s signal that rate cuts were likely brought some relief, but also raised the specter of a global currency war.
On Friday, the dollar fell against a basket of six major currencies to a two-week low of 96.495. The index has shed roughly one per cent this week.
The dollar has fallen 1.35 per cent versus the yen this week, reaching a six-month low of 107.045 yen on Friday.
In oil markets, U.S. crude oil futures were up 0.46 per cent at $57.33 per barrel.
They had surged more than five per cent the previous day after Iran shot down the U.S. drone.