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Stock markets go topsy turvy as oil jumps and US data stoke fear

Looking up? (AFP Photo/Angela Weiss)

Global stock markets went on a rollercoaster ride on Thursday as investors were caught between fresh tremors on the economic front and a sudden surge in oil prices, analysts said.

A tentative rebound in European stocks seen early in the day came to an abrupt end when US jobless data fuelled fears that no amount of government efforts can shield the economy from coronavirus.

News that another 6.65 million US workers filed for unemployment benefits last week, the most ever recorded and nearly twice as many as market economists had forecast, initially also depressed Wall Street.

"The economy is in bad shape," said analyst Edward Moya at OANDA, calling the reading "whopping".

"It is unfortunate how bad these numbers are getting, and no one will be surprised if we see a few more terrible readings over the next few weeks," he said.

- 'Choppy' -

Fears were growing "that the recent fiscal rescue package to help businesses might not be enough to keep people on their payroll", Moya said.

But just as stock markets investors seemed to be throwing in the towel for the day, US President Donald Trump engineered a dizzying recovery in oil prices that rose by more than 30 percent after he said he expected Russia and Saudi Arabia to end a price war by slashing crude output.

There was some confusion as to who had been talking with whom -- especially after the Kremlin denied that President Vladimir Putin had spoken to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman -- but oil market enthusiasm still spilled over into equities.

"Stocks are showing some resiliency as the energy sector is rallying amid a surge in crude oil prices off a near two-decade low," said analysts at the Charles Schwab brokerage, adding that equity trading remained "choppy".

The deadly coronavirus is keeping traders on edge as it sweeps the planet, with infections approaching one million and countries forced to tighten already strict lockdown measures.

- 'Bundle of nerves' -

Thursday's stock market recovery followed a global rout Wednesday as the human and economic toll from the coronavirus rose.

After two weeks of much-needed gains fuelled by trillions of dollars in stimulus and widespread monetary easing, focus has returned to the devastation wrought on populations and the long-term impact of the pandemic.

Asia earlier saw a mixed session, with Tokyo down 1.4 percent, while Sydney and Kuala Lumpur shed two percent apiece and Singapore dropped 0.2 percent. There were also losses in Wellington and Manila.

But Hong Kong rose 0.8 percent and Shanghai rallied 1.7 percent, with Seoul and Bangkok up more than two percent. Jakarta put on more than one percent.

Investors are now a "bundle of nerves", said AxiCorp's Stephen Innes.

- Key figures around 1550 GMT -

London - FTSE 100: UP 0.5 percent at 5,480.22 points (close)

Frankfurt - DAX 30: UP 0.3 Percent at 9,570.82 (close)

Paris - CAC 40: UP 0.3 percent at 4,220.96 (close)

EURO STOXX 50: UP 0.3 percent at 2,688.49

New York - Dow: UP 1.6 percent at 21,270.84

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: DOWN 1.4 percent at 17,818.72 (close)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng: UP 0.8 percent at 23,280.06 (close)

Shanghai - Composite: UP 1.7 percent at 2,780.64 (close)

Brent North Sea crude: UP 17.7 percent at $29.11 per barrel

West Texas Intermediate: UP 20.4 percent at $24.39

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.0856 from $1.0964 at 2100 GMT

Dollar/yen: UP at 107.86 yen from 107.17

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2374 from $1.2406

Euro/pound: DOWN at 87.74 pence from 89.07