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US, Europe close lower as traders weigh recovery, new infections

AFP logo AFP 17/05/2021 AFP
Elon Musk standing on a stage posing for the camera: The price of bitcoin fell to a near three-month low after Tesla boss Elon Musk appeared to suggest his car firm had or was planning to offload its holding of the digital unit © Britta Pedersen The price of bitcoin fell to a near three-month low after Tesla boss Elon Musk appeared to suggest his car firm had or was planning to offload its holding of the digital unit

Fears about inflation and rising Covid-19 infections in several countries dimmed the mood in global markets Monday and drove the dollar down, although there was good news on trade as Brussels and Washington called a truce on metals tariffs.

European and US markets both closed lower, with Wall Street starting the week in a grumpy mood after Friday's exuberant finish.

Tech stocks were hit hardest, with the Nasdaq losing 0.4 percent. 

Mounting price pressures in the United States are raising fears the Federal Reserve could call time on its easy money policies, although the central bank has said it will ride out volatility in inflation data caused by comparisons with the early months of the pandemic last year.

"The Fed continues to talk down inflation, saying it's a sign of economic strength and activity, but the question is how much inflation is good for the economy," Peter Cardillo of Spartan Capital Securities told AFP.

In an appearance ahead of Wednesday's closely watched publication of minutes from the central bank's latest policy meeting, Fed Vice Chair Richard Clarida said "it may take more time to reopen a $20 trillion economy than it did to shut it down," but offered no signs of a change in policy.

With the Fed focused on the jobs side of its dual mandate, "our baseline view is that achieving maximum employment will not put unwanted or unwelcome upward pressure on the price level," he said.

In Asia, Singapore and Taiwan both tightened restrictions to control rising coronavirus infections, while Chinese retail sales fell short of expectations, cooling hopes that consumption there would help power a global post-coronavirus recovery.

"Latest activity data... reinforced the message that the country's economy is clearly slowing, as it drifts back to its pre-pandemic trend and authorities remove policy support," Capital Economics analyst Thomas Matthews commented.

But there was good news on transatlantic trade, as the United States and EU called a truce on tariff battles over steel and aluminium that dated back to former US president Donald Trump's time in office.

The two sides announced "discussions to address global steel and aluminium excess capacity" that will see Brussels temporarily suspend a plan to increase tariffs on high-profile American goods.

- Musk hits bitcoin -

In company news, AT&T said it plans to merge its WarnerMedia division with Discovery, creating a new standalone media giant to compete with rivals like Netflix and Disney+.

Meanwhile trading in Hong Kong's largest pro-democracy media group was suspended Monday, days after authorities froze the assets of its jailed owner Jimmy Lai under a new national security law.

Next Digital Limited -- which publishes the Apple Daily newspaper -- said it would halt trading "pending the release of an announcement" about Lai's frozen assets, in a statement to the city's stock exchange.

Video: How is the EU helping Europe recover from the COVID-19 pandemic? (Dailymotion)

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Elsewhere, bitcoin fell to $42,185 briefly, its lowest since February, after Elon Musk on Sunday appeared to suggest his Tesla carmaker may sell -- or already had sold -- its holdings in the cryptocurrency.

The unit later pared the losses to sit at $44,687.

Tesla had already hammered the digital currency last week when it said it will halt bitcoin transactions because of environmental concerns.

- Key figures around 2030 GMT -

New York - Dow: DOWN 0.2 percent at 34,327.79 (close)

New York - S&P 500: DOWN 0.3 percent at 4,163.29 (close)

New York - Nasdaq: DOWN 0.4 percent at 13,379.05 (close)

London - FTSE 100: DOWN 0.2 percent at 7,032.85 (close)

Frankfurt - DAX 30: DOWN 0.1 percent at 15,396.62 (close)

Paris - CAC 40: DOWN 0.3 percent at 6.367.35 (close)

EURO STOXX 50: DOWN 0.3 percent at 4,006.84 (close)

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.9 percent at 27,824.83 (close)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng Index: UP 0.6 percent at 28,194.09 (close)

Shanghai - Composite: UP 0.8 percent at 3,517.62 (close)

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.2155 from $1.2140 at 2115 GMT on Friday

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.4141 from $1.4100

Euro/pound: DOWN at 85.94 pence from 86.07 pence 

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 109.20 yen from 109.34 yen

Brent North Sea crude: UP 1.2 percent at $69.54 per barrel

West Texas Intermediate: UP 1.5 percent at $66.33



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