Markets rally on huge economic support plans

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A city worker in a protective suit disinfects a street as a preventive measure against the coronavirus in Manila

Equities enjoyed some much-needed gains Friday after another volatile week on global markets as investors took solace in a blockbuster series of government and central bank measures aimed at cushioning the economic blow from the coronavirus.

The dollar eased somewhat after a lengthy rally fuelled by traders cashing out of their investments, while the embattled oil market extended Thursday's gains.

With the deadly pandemic showing no sign of ending, countries are going into lockdown, effectively shutting down the global economy and leaving experts in the dark as to how deep and long an expected recession will last.

On Thursday, US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell presented a $1 trillion emergency relief package to combat the turmoil, with $1,200 cash handouts for individuals.

It also includes $208 billion in loans for companies hit by the crisis -- $58 billion of it for the battered airline sector -- and $300 billion in small business loans.

The plan is the latest in a series of measures put forward by Washington and comes on top of Federal Reserve interest rate cuts and pledges worth hundreds of billions of dollars to provide liquidity to creaking financial markets.

It also comes in tandem with similar moves by governments and banks around the world, which have provided some support to investors, but which many observers warn could still be too little as the crisis rumbles on.

Hong Kong, Mumbai and Kuala Lumpur all surged more than five percent, Seoul and Mumbai piled on more than seven percent, while Taipei rallied more than six percent.

Manila rose 3.4 percent, while Shanghai, Singapore and Jakarta put on more than one percent, with Wellington one percent higher and Sydney up 0.7 percent. Tokyo was closed for a holiday.

In early trade, London and Paris both climbed more than five percent while Frankfurt was up more than six percent.

"For now... the artillery barrage from the world's central banks and government treasuries seems to have stopped the rot sweeping the global economy," said OANDA's Jeffrey Halley.

The advances followed a positive lead from Wall Street and Europe.

- Dollar in retreat -

But, while healthy, the advances come at the end of another tumultuous week for equities and there are warnings of further troubles down the line.

Many analysts expect markets to remain highly volatile and under pressure until health authorities get a better grasp of the scale of the outbreak in the United States and Europe and how long it will curtail activity.

"Despite the positive signs, credit markets continue to be under pressure," said Gorilla Trades strategist Ken Berman.

"High-yield bonds declined again, as the 10-year Treasury yield fell back to one percent, meaning that the 'flight-to-quality' continues. The immediate liquidity issues eased thanks to the central banks' steps, but credit markets will remain at the centre of attention, due to the systemic risks."

The dollar was down against most other currencies after soaring over the past week owing to massive demand for the unit from dealers cashing out of investments.

The pound was up almost three percent, though it was still sitting around 35-year lows after cratering on Thursday, while the yen and euro also enjoyed strong buying.

The South Korean won, New Zealand dollar, Mexican peso and Russian ruble piled on more than three percent, and Australia's dollar more than four percent. There were also rises of more than one percent for the Canadian dollar, South African rand and Chinese yuan.

Oil markets were also a little more cheery, with both main contracts enjoying further buying interest.

Brent gained five percent and West Texas Intermediate nearly six percent, building on Thursday's jump of 14 percent and 24 percent respectively.

The commodity was helped by a directive from Donald Trump to top up the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to its maximum capacity by buying a total of 77 million barrels from US producers, kicking off with an initial purchase of 30 million barrels.

However, the market is still down more than 50 percent since the start of the year, while the ongoing price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia is rumbling on as demand remains battered by the virus crisis.

In company news, Air New Zealand ended down more than 35 percent, but well off the 45 percent drop suffered in the morning after the government said it would offer the struggling national carrier a NZ$900 million (US$515 million) loan to keep it running. The firm had been in a four-day trading halt before Friday's restart.

- Key figures around 0820 GMT -

Hong Kong - Hang Seng: UP 5.1 percent at 22,805.07 (close)

Shanghai - Composite: UP 1.6 percent at 2,745.62 (close)

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: Closed for a public holiday

London - FTSE 100: UP 5.2 percent at 5,418.35

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.1787 from $1.1479 at 2100 GMT

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 109.58 yen from 110.65 yen

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.0811 from $1.0692

Euro/pound: DOWN at 91.60 pence from 93.03

Brent North Sea crude: UP 5.2 percent at $29.95 per barrel

West Texas Intermediate: UP 5.8 percent at $26.67 per barrel

New York - Dow: UP 1.0 percent at 20,087.19 (close)