US stock index futures inched lower for a fourth day on Thursday after equities fell in the previous session amid concerns the Federal Reserve might cut back on support for the economy sooner than expected and as cryptocurrency markets crashed.
Bitcoin rebounded somewhat after falling as much as 30% on Wednesday in the wake of Tesla’s U-turn on payments and a decision by China to crack down on the token’s use.
European stocks rebounded from sharp falls on Wednesday, when fresh concerns about the economic recovery and the actions of central banks came to the fore. The continent-wide Stoxx 600 was 0.5% higher.
Markets had a rocky day on Wednesday, with US stocks falling sharply before rebounding to close only slightly lower.
The release of the minutes from the Fed’s last interest rate meeting unnerved investors. A single line showed the central bank had discussed the possibility of eventually starting to talk about cutting back on bond purchases as growth and inflation pick up.
“A number of participants suggested that if the economy continued to make rapid progress toward the committee’s goals, it might be appropriate at some point in upcoming meetings to begin discussing a plan for adjusting the pace of asset purchases,” the minutes said.
US bond yields, which move inversely to prices, jumped as investors digested the minutes. The yield on the key 10-year US Treasury note rose as high as 1.692%, after starting the week at around 1.63%. Yet it slipped back to 1.661% on Thursday.
Analysts were not entirely sure how to interpret the Fed minutes, causing gyrations in stocks. Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at trading platform Oanda, said the minutes “restored a sense of order” by confirming that the Fed remained committed to its ultra-loose monetary policy for the foreseeable future.
Yet Jim Reid of Deutsche Bank said they showed Fed policymakers “have indeed talked about talking about tapering.”
Many investors are highly concerned that rising inflation will erode the value of their portfolios. They are equally as concerned that it will force the Fed and other central banks to reduce their support for the economy, weighing on stocks and growth.
In a sign that investors are becoming wary of high asset prices, bitcoin plunged as much as 30% to $30,000 on Wednesday following a breakneck rally in the first months of 2021 that took the price near $65,000 in April.
The digital asset rebounded later in the day and continued to claw its way higher on Thursday, rising 4.2% to $39,949.
Bitcoin’s rapid multi-day slide was triggered by Elon Musk saying Tesla would no longer accept it as payment for cars due to its “insane” energy use. But the catalyst for Wednesday’s crash was a move by Chinese regulators to step up their pressure on the token’s use.
Analysts said the crypto crash made itself felt across the wider market. “Typically, moves in the crypto arena are rather isolated,” Michael Brown, senior market analyst at Caxton FX, said. “Yesterday, though, was different, with the sell-off in the crypto arena sparking some notable risk aversion elsewhere.”
Brown added: “This ripple effect seems to be a strong illustration of how large crypto markets have become; the correlation between these assets is, at least intraday, fairly clear to see.”