World equities fall on fresh China fears; oil sinks

NEW YORK (Reuters) - World stock markets declined on Tuesday after weak data from China reignited concerns about a slowing global economy and oil prices pulled back from recent sharp gains.

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) March 4, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

China’s February trade performance was worse than economists expected, with exports tumbling the most in over six years, days after leaders sought to reassure investors the outlook for the world’s second-largest economy remains solid.

“The data this morning has dampened sentiment more so than anything else at this point in terms of confirming some of the concerns regarding growth in China,” said Ryan Larson, head of U.S. equity trading at RBC Global Asset Management in Chicago.

Weighing on oil prices, Goldman Sachs suggested the recent rally was unsustainable and analysts predicted U.S. stockpiles reached record highs again last week.

Brent crude futures LCOc1 settled at $39.65 a barrel, down $1.19, or 2.9 percent, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures CLc1 dropped $1.40, or 3.7 percent, to settle at $36.50.

The declines came a day after Brent and U.S. crude settled at their highest levels since December.

In the U.S. stock market, energy shares led the way lower. The S&P energy index .SPNY dropped 4.1 percent, while shares of Exxon Mobil XOM.N were off 2.2 percent at $82.63.

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI was down 109.85 points, or 0.64 percent, to 16,964.1, the S&P 500 .SPX lost 22.5 points, or 1.12 percent, to 1,979.26 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC dropped 59.43 points, or 1.26 percent, to 4,648.83.

U.S. stocks had sold off sharply at the start of the year amid worries about weakness in China and its impact on the global economy, but major indexes have retraced much of those losses in recent weeks.

MSCI's all-country world stock index .MIWD00000PUS was down 0.9 percent, while in Europe, the pan-regional FTSEurofirst 300 index .FTEU3 ended down 0.9 percent.

U.S. Treasury yields fell in line with Japanese yields after the weak Chinese data, which increased demand for safe-haven U.S. government debt.

The benchmark 10-year note US10YT=RR was last up 22/32 in price to yield 1.829 percent, down from 1.904 percent late on Monday.

The Treasury Department sold $24 billion of 3-year notes US3YT=RR to surprisingly disappointing demand as investors had expected the general flight to safety mood in the market to drive more investors to the U.S. auction.

“Cheap outright levels weren’t enough to bring in buyers, said Aaron Kohli, an interest rate strategist at BMO Capital Markets in New York.

In the foreign exchange market, news of deterioration in China’s trade balance stoked safe-haven demand for the yen.

The dollar was down 0.8 percent at 112.56 yen JPY=, while the euro slipped 0.8 percent at 123.92 yen EURJPY=.

The euro’s move was further limited ahead of a European Central Bank policy meeting on Thursday, when traders expect the bank to embark on more stimulus to support a wobbly euro zone economy.

Investors are uncertain how far it will go. Euro bears are cautious about positioning for bold action, having been badly burned previously when the ECB disappointed by choosing to take more modest easing steps.

Gold prices edged lower, with spot gold XAU= down 0.4 percent at $1,262.46 an ounce.

Additional reporting by Tariro Mzezewa in New York and Abhiram Nandakumar in Bengaluru; Editing by Nick Zieminski, Meredith Mazzilli and Chris Reese