COVID-2019’s Impact on Financial Markets [In-Depth]

COVID-2019’s Impact on Financial Markets [In-Depth]

The financial markets have been under much pressure, volatility and uncertainty since COVID-2019. As we end the month of February, global equity markets are in a freefall. Many still are doubting the severity of this quickly spreading disease, but as these bottom buyers are finding out, the big picture still views this uncontained epidemic not seen through.

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This report explores the virus’ impact on global financial markets from a regional perspective.

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COVID-2019: Contents

  • What has happened
  • And what is happening
  • What may happen
  • Regional Effects
  • Asia
  • North America
  • EMEA

The Eonomic Impact Of The COVID-2019

What has happened?

Referencing financial data, current and historical, we see that the pace that COVID-2019 is spreading much faster than prior epidemics (SARS, Swine Flu) in a limited time frame. The timing of this contagion has also been an issue to deal with. China has been working to see an economic recover from a tepid 2019 and the first wave of trade negotiations with the US were just underway.

The effect of imports to China have directly affected the export economy of countries around the world. This has an immediate effect within oil, LNG, agricultural goods and metals. In oil, we have seen demand from China, the largest net importer of crude oil, take away nearly ten percent of global demand in January. In 2019 China was bringing in a total of 10.12mm b/d, so far this year we have seen this number fall to ~7mm b/d in January and February. The International Energy Association’s Fatih Birol has been quoted as saying the revision for 2020 oil demand will numerate to the lowest in a decade.


The longer-term effect may be detrimental for environmental concerns as well, China is a major supplier of battery materials. We have yet to see the financial results of these complications, but they do not bode well for Q1 or Q2 results for manufactures, producers and their respective country economies.

COVID-2019: What is happening?

The marketplace is still optimistic that this will be a “V” shaped rebound. In fact, the COVID-2019 continues to spread, and a market recovery seems unlikely in the near term. This has also prompted concerns over economic strength continuing in a country like the US. The risk now becomes heightened around an interest rate cut. Money markets are now fully pricing in one 25 basis point cut in the Fed's rate by April and three by March 2021. This then pushes the USD lower and the resulting effect then puts pressure on countries already dealing with economic woes. This currency pressure then complicates recovery hopes as foreign countries face currency value struggles.


Coronavirus: What may happen?

In 2002 to 2003 we had dealt with the SARS epidemic. That started the beginning of 2002 with a peak in fatalities and cases coming by June. As mentioned earlier, this outbreak has climbed rapidly and we’re only two months into the move. The number of cases reported are moving quickly above 80K worldwide with the fatality numbers topping 2700.


As this continues to make its way through quarantines and economic isolations, the impact seems to be rising at a compounded rate. The most important part of this epidemic and it’s financial and social implication is that people need to be aware. There is a high chance that this continued pressure and spreading contagion will push the global economy into recession. In the oil markets, it’s possible that we see oil prices drop to lows seen in 2015 under $30 a barrel.

With a focus in the financial and commodity markets, the keys to maintaining balance is to stay informed. Watching currency markets are as important as covering import and exports of commodities. There is no way to predict such a “black swan” event, but we can compare prior markets as they make their way through these critical anomalies. As everything in this world is a new news event, everything follows a cycle that is familiar.

COVID-2019: Regional Effects

Asia - Financial Impact

The deepest cut to the Asian regional economies remains with China. Japan continues to find solid footing and this outbreak has pushed it off course. For what it’s worth, Japan continues to fall upon unfortunate timing as they were looking for a boost from the 2020 Olympics. South Korea’s recent rash of cases poses another threat to the once strong oil and natural gas market. Taking China out of the equation has been bad enough, but to see the other main importing energy countries, Japan and South Korea in the mix, it becomes a dilemma.

Focusing on the China stock market and its relative indexes, it seems like we’re seeing some flattening out from the decline. There has been a recognizable bounce off the lows in late January, but we seem to be far from the end of this pandemic.

One must approach all of this with an open mind and think of all possibilities. To think that the China markets are operating as normal, might be a bit gullible. Behind closed doors, it’s possible that China is limiting exposure to open trade. After the Chinese New Year as investors returned to the markets, short selling interest in the stock market was limited by the Chinese Securities Regulator. It is possible that these regulations are still in place but enforced behind closed doors.


Another concern about the Chinese stock market and its true purpose is to understand who is trading? China’s stock market is made up mainly of retail investors. These investors dominate the money invested in the market, by some accounts, up to 75%. With many people sick or quarantined with COVID-2019, it’s likely that these investors are not trading as normal. This brings into question, is the bounce in the market really holding at these levels or will there be more volatility and downside exposure to come?


It is easy to pull China data out and see the major impact of COVID-2019 on commodities. IF we only consider the impact this has had on the recent trade negotiations with the US, we scrape the surface of how these cascades into all commodities imported and exported from the second largest economic nation in the world.

Imports of crude oil have hit a wall that will take months to recover. Local Chinese refiners are seeing credit lines pulled in fears that they will not be able to make payments. OPEC has not budged over the past month and any movement from them will take weeks to affect the depressed market.

To be brief when we are talking about commodities this is complex and understandably a situation that will take time to be repaired. The commodity market impact is well beyond oil. The agriculture trade will continue to see significant issues. The metals market will come under pressure. Consider that copper and iron ore have already seen a slump from declining demand in China, this will continue. Battery components may be the one commodity overlooked with regards to COVID-2019. With a significant amount of minor metals sourced from China, markets for computers, mobile phones and EVs will feel a crunch.


That of course is only a review of China’s market. Keeping to the broader view, the loss of South Korea and Japan is a considerable loss for the energy industry. These countries make up for large imports of crude oil and LNG. As they start to feel the effects of this pandemic, their respective economies will slide also.

As we move through other regions in this paper, it’s important to state here that this is not only an opinion of what still may happen, but also a paper on the preparation of another pandemic that will likely happen. In these past twenty years, we have had several outbreaks of unknown diseases that have caused panic, quarantine and fatalities. The lesson that we should learn from all of these is that they are never easily solved. Most take at least a year to reach the end stages of an outbreak. It is important to remember that we need to learn from historical cycles. Although not indicative what will happen in the future, but a guide to what we know can and will happen coupled with a large dose of the unknown.

North America - Financial Impact

The last week of February has been the most significant decline in the US stock market over the past four years. Unlike most swings in the stock market these past few years, the reasons behind this move is well defined. From my collection of traders and analysts, there is still an optimism that the market has overblown the sentiment. Even President Trump has expressed confusion and anger over the US stock market declining at such a rapid pace. Unfortunately, the decline continues as COVID-2019 cases continue to rise.

The concern that we should be having is not about this current market, but the future earnings of the companies in the US indexes. The effect of lower imports and exports to the major economies in Asia are going to show up in Q2 and Q3 results. We have started to see the US Fed take these things into consideration and talks of an interest rate cut are starting to come to light.

When we start to think about an interest rate cut at this time, it may be a good thing for the US and help shake off the weakness, but it’s not going to solve global trade. A weaker USD may seem an attractive option for trade, but it puts pressure on competing countries also affected by weaker trade. The result may become an all-out currency battle that will need some economic strength somewhere to counter the issues at hand. This seems an unlikely scenario with this pandemic still in early stages. This is where we must remember the basics of economics; cause and effect.

COVID-2019 And Commodities

We have started with a focus on the US, but we’ll shift to Canada and Latin America to start our commodity outlook. We want to begin with Canada and the burden of their crude oil supply. With the recent issue concerning Teck Resources, it’s a compounding issue within this country. The CEO of TECK mentioned that Canadian regulations are a difficult hurdle to get over but seeing the overall standing of crude oil supply globally may have had some effect on this decision.

Snice the US lifted the crude oil export ban in 2015, the US has become a major global oil supplier. This has been a difficult issue to deal with in Canada as they have always looked to the US as their major consumer. In recent years, Canada has worked to figure out ways to move their oil out to the global market, but transportation costs have been a detrimental cost to margin.

With the outbreak of this virus, we’re seeing crude oil supply accumulating globally. This cannot be a good sign if barrels are waiting to leave the US Gulf and Canadian barrels become landlocked. It is possible that the biggest impact on crude oil will not come down on OPEC+ or the US, but in Canada.

There may be some hope for the commodity market in Canada. We’re once again likely to see a safe have trade to Gold. During times of uncertainty and instability, Gold has been a winner. The investment into this commodity may bolster production and mining in the country as well as in Latin America.

Latin America has always been a strong trade partner with China, but it’s been a diverse group between oil, grains, softs, livestock and metals. Most countries in Latin America can continue to maintain economic stability if the US remains viable. If there is an outlier to this, one must think about the suffering economy of Venezuela. Losing China as a trade partner and perhaps as a once solid backer of credit, the country may fall quickly into an economic collapse.

Moving to the US, it comes down to the current trade negotiations. The US was in the top ten of oil importers into China in 2018 ($6.8B). This accounted for about 25% of the oil China imported in 2018. As we moved into 2019 and China put tariffs on US oil, US crude oil quickly dipped to about 5% of their import in 2019. Perhaps this was a saving grace after the demand decline from COVID-2109, but there remains a lot of supply in the global market. The recovery of demand is not likely to come quickly and absorb the overhang. If the global economic picture continues to decline because of this virus, there will be more supply and a much longer wait to absorb the oil.

A commodity that is taking the biggest blow in the US from this crisis is LNG (Liquified Natural Gas). Natural Gas prices in the US have been under pressure for the past year and this now puts it under more stress. One of the hopes for this commodity has been the shift to more LNG exports.

Financial Markets

In South Korea the US increased its LNG imports by 5.5% in 2019. That accounted for 18% of that countries LNG imports. The recent wave of COVID-2019 outbreak in South Korea will likely influence all energy imports from the US.

The one that matters though is natural gas. Losing any ground now, the US Natural Gas market will come under more pressure to cut back on production and increase storage. Not an easy thing to do when there is still a significant amount of associated gas from oil production. This also does not bode well for companies that have been focused on building out LNG export terminals. The demand will return, but these projects now must consider a revised budget and forecast.

Agriculture in the US will feel the effect of weaker demand from China, but again the recent trade wars have already stemmed the tide. One would have never had the foresight to predict that learning to cope with weaker trade because of tariffs would mitigate the pressure brought on by this pandemic.

Financial Markets

What now remains is to see how long the US agriculture producer can hold without China’s demand. There is hope that Japan may make up for some of this loss with the upcoming 2020 Olympics, but that is a large question mark on how it unfolds. We have seen this virus off to a fast start, but containment is key. If brought back to manageable levels, we should see enough time for Japan to prepare for the Olympic economic boon. That should be enough for the US to pull through these tough times in agriculture.


This may be one of the few areas that have not seen significant economic implications, but with cases rising in Italy and Iran all eyes are on the area.

COVID-2019: Financial Impact

As we started 2020, one of the main focuses in this region was dealing with Brexit. Although it’s moved out of the spotlight for now, this may become an important issue for the EU and the UK down the road. We have heard from the EU Commission during the last week of February and he has stated it is too early to tell about the economic effect from COVID-2019.

What we have been reviewing through this whole paper is that we don’t expect to see much more around the immediate effects, but we do expect the future effects to compile. Germany has recognized the possibilities and are slipping into stagflation. They have noted that if the virus outbreak continues to affect other major economies, theirs is likely to suffer as well. It’s a hard thing to pull a country’s economy out of recession, inflation or stagflation. It’s is obviously much more difficult to do such under pressures from a global virus outbreak.

Major countries such as the US and China deal with major trade agreements. In other countries, trade deals may be of a smaller amplitude, but these minor deals are also those that are susceptible to being affected the most. Major cities such as Wuhan may favor trade with easier to deal with countries. If this holds true, shutting down Wuhan will have a major financial impact on those trade partners. Since they are smaller trade partners, they are also more dependent on these deals. That leaves a large amount of exposure that we may not see I the major stock market moves, but something that is going to evolve over time.


This area depends a lot on how the current outbreak in Italy progresses. The global progression is quite important, but if there are other cases in Europe, it may cause concern over major shipping areas for commodities. Obviously, the ARA (Amsterdam-Rotterdam-Antwerp) area will be the focal point of concern. This port area accounts for more than 25 percent of Europe’s crude inflows and is a major point for turning this crude around into refined product exports.

Shipping will be at risk the most in this area regardless. We’re seeing shipping rates in steep decline (~80%) to end the month of February and those may continue. It’s hard to imagine how the shipping industry is surviving several blows to rates over the past few years. This one could be one of the most detrimental to date.

Financial Markets

The Middle East has the most at risk when it comes to Oil and China. The Saudis and OPEC have refused to act during this outbreak, but it’s likely that talks with Russia may have played a part. The Saudis are the second largest importer of crude oil to China behind Russia. If Russia is not willing to cut its production and supply to China, the Saudis are not going to make a move either. That in turn leaves OPEC without its leader to lead any cuts in production.

This will not bode well for oversupply in the global markets and if this virus continues to evolve, we will find the oil supply in a point of no return. We have seen a similar predicament back in 2015 when OPEC refused to deal with the US fracking boom. That resulted in a major supply glut and saw prices drop from over $100/bbl to under $25/bbl. Lessons are expected to be learned from past mistakes, but we are a stubborn society full of optimism in stable economic times.

COVID-2019: Conclusion

In 2019 I made several presentations to various groups in the financial and commodity markets. All these presentations focused on the same thing, “The Unknown Unknown”. I was directly quoting former Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. Most of the time I had a chuckle in the audience, but the truth is I was right. It was this “unknown unknown” that created one of the biggest global financial crises we’ve seen since the Great Recession.

This is an important thing to note. For those that still look at the global stock markets as overdone to the downside, there is a lot that we still don’t understand. A lot that we don’t know and more that will cannot know.

Article by Carl Larry, Performance Director, Refinitiv

Refinitiv, formerly the Financial & Risk business of Thomson Reuters, is one of the world’s largest providers of financial markets data and infrastructure. Serving more than 40,000 institutions in over 190 countries, we provide information, insights, and technology that drive innovation and performance in global markets. Our 160-year Reuters heritage of integrity enables customers to make critical decisions with confidence, while our unique open platform, best-in-class data, and cutting-edge technology bring greater opportunity to our customers. By advancing our customers, we drive progress for the entire financial community. For more information, go to
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