* ECB launches $850 bln bond buying program
* U.S. stock futures turn positive, euro rises
* ASX higher in early trade
* Asian stock markets : tmsnrt.rs/2zpUAr4
By Tom Westbrook
SINGAPORE, March 19 (Reuters) – Asian stock markets fought to stabilise on Thursday, as the latest promise of stimulus from the European Central Bank propped up sentiment while the world struggles to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
U.S. stock futures turned positive and Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 rose 2% after the ECB announced a bond-buying programme. Nikkei futures pointed to a positive open and the euro found support.
The ECB will buy 750 billion euro ($820 billion) in bonds through 2020, with Greek debt and non-financial commercial paper of sufficient credit quality eligible under the programme for the first time.
“It’s given us a shot in the arm,” said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at brokerage CMC Markets in Sydney, but he added he expects it to be short-lived.
“This is about the impact on demand and the disruption of global supply chain…(bond buying) is not speaking directly to the key problem for markets. I doubt very much this is a turning point,” he said.
Overnight on Wall Street, the S&P 500 fell 5% and is down nearly 30% over a month. Selling extended across almost all asset classes as investors liquidated portfolios.
Bonds have suffered their sharpest two-day selloff in nearly 20 years. Gold is down 3% for the week and oil fell to an 18-year low as quarantine lockdowns spread across the globe.
In currency markets, the dollar is king and jumped to a three-year high overnight amid a rush for the world’s reserve currency in times of crisis.
On Wednesday, the virus outbreak worsened. Italy reported the largest single-day death toll from coronavirus since the outbreak began in China in late 2019.
It has killed more than 8,700 people globally, infected more than 212,000 and prompted emergency lockdowns on a scale not seen in living memory.
“It is serious. Take it seriously,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told her nation in a televised speech amid the shutdown of almost everything except bakeries, banks, pharmacies and grocers.
The ECB’s move follows emergency interest rate cuts around the globe, enormous fiscal support packages and six central banks promising discount dollars to banks to alleviate a squeeze in greenback funding.
But so far none of it has been able to put a floor under dire sentiment, and some $15 trillion in shareholder value has been wiped out in little more than a month of heavy selling.
“I’d say the market is uninvestable at this point,” said Daniel Cuthbertson, managing director at Value Point Asset Management in Sydney. “Until we get a containment of global contractions, the market is just going to be directionless.”
On Thursday the Reserve Bank of Australia pumped a record $7.4 billion into the banking system and is due to make an out-of-cycle policy announcement at 0330 GMT.
Investors are also looking to a March German sentiment survey due at 0900 GMT and U.S. joblessness figures due at 1230 GMT for any early signals on how the virus headwinds are hitting two of the world’s economic powerhouses.
Oil steadied after an overnight rout, with Brent crude settling at $24.88.
($1 = 0.9149 euros)
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