Stocks climb as markets find comfort in virus numbers


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Global stock markets rose Thursday as nervous investors welcomed data suggesting the coronavirus outbreak may be close to reaching its peak.

"Pretty much everywhere you look in financial markets there is renewed optimism," said Stephen Innes of AxiCorp. 

"Signs that the number of new daily coronavirus cases is plateauing is driving expectations that social distancing measures will be lifted soon in parts of the world," he said.

Crude futures surged as traders expected top producers to agree later Thursday to cut oil output as COVID-19 slashes global demand.

"Despite some pretty awful coronavirus statistics traders are optimistic that the outbreak is nearing its peak and that governments would roll out more stimulus," said City Index analyst Fiona Cincotta ahead of a long Easter weekend. 

"A jump in oil prices amid expectations of an output cut at today's OPEC meeting is also playing its part" in lifting stock markets, she said.

Top crude producing nations will hold a crucial teleconference after a collapse in oil demand caused by the coronavirus and a damaging Saudi-Russia price war sparked a crash in the market.

The talks between OPEC and its non-member allies, notably Russia, are seen as the best chance to provide support to crude prices.

Europe's equity markets were more than two percent higher in the mid-afternoon, while Wall Street also posted solid gains at the start of trading in New York, helped by a massive Federal Reserve stimulus plan announced earlier Thursday.

But the dollar weakened at the prospect of ever more cash sloshing around the economy.

Earlier, most Asian stock markets had closed solidly higher, except Tokyo.

While the Vix "fear index" has halved from its levels seen in mid-March there was still caution among observers, with health experts stressing that any premature loosening of restrictions could accelerate the spread of the virus.

The economic toll of the crisis is becoming glaringly apparent, with France now in recession after suffering its worst contraction since 1945 and European powerhouse Germany expected to shrink by a tenth in the second quarter of the year.

Despite this, EU leaders are struggling to agree on a bailout plan to support the region, with a major sticking point being so-called coronabonds that would pool debt among nations. 

- Key figures around 1345 GMT -

London - FTSE 100: UP 2.6 percent at 5,822.77 points 

Frankfurt - DAX 30: UP 2.5 percent at 10,590.11 

Paris - CAC 40: UP 2.1 percent at 4,535.14 

EURO STOXX 50: DOWN 0.2 percent at 2,845.76 

New York - Dow: UP 2.0 percent at 23,906.91

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: FLAT at 19,345.77 (close)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng: UP 1.4 percent at 24,300.33 (close)

Shanghai - Composite: UP 0.4 percent at 2825.95 (close)

New York - Dow: UP 3.4 percent at 23,433.57 (close)

Brent North Sea crude: UP 4.3 percent at $34.26 per barrel

West Texas Intermediate: UP 6.2 percent at $26.65

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.0935 from $1.0850 at 2050 GMT 

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 108.76 from 108.90 yen

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.2463 from $1.2375

Euro/pound: UP at 87.71 pence from 87.66