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Markets stable amid holidays, oil down on OPEC uncertainty

BANGKOK — Asian shares were steady in quiet Good Friday trading after Wall Street closed out its best week in 45 years thanks to the Federal Reserve's titanic effort to support the economy through the coronavirus crisis. The price of oil fell back after major oil-producing countries struggled to finalize a deal on output cuts.

European and U.S. markets are closed for Good Friday. The long weekend offers a respite from the drama that has wracked markets for weeks due to the coronavirus outbreak.

In Asia, Japan's Nikkei 225 index advanced, gaining 0.8% to close at 19,498.50. In South Korea, the Kospi jumped 1.3% to 1,860.70. Shares also rose in Taiwan, Thailand and Malaysia. But the Shanghai Composite index lost 1%, to 2,796.63.

Overnight, in Europe, the countries that use the euro currency agreed on measures that will help each other bear the burden of the costs of the crisis. The package of 500 billion euros ($550 billion) does not include, however, a more ambitious proposal to borrow money together.

Earlier, the U.S. central bank announced programs to provide up to $2.3 trillion in loans to households, local governments and businesses as the country tips into what economists say may be the worst recession in decades.

The Fed’s actions completely overshadowed a government report that another 6.6 million people applied for unemployment benefits last week. Stock investors expected such dismal numbers, and some are looking ahead to a possible reopening of the economy.

“It looks like the Feds are on a mission to blow holes in every dam that stops the flow of credit. And it sure sounds like they have plenty more dynamite if needed," Stephen Innes of AxiCorp. said in a commentary.

The stock market is not the economy, and that distinction has become even more clear this week. For the week, the S&P 500 jumped 12.1%, its best performance since late 1974.

Stock investors are continuously looking ahead to where the economy will be a few months or more in the future, which largely depends on the state of the coronavirus pandemic and on the mass shutdowns meant to contain it.

On Thursday, the S&P 500 rose 39.84 points to 2,789.82. The Dow Jones Industrial Average added 1.2%, to 23,719.37, and the Nasdaq climbed 0.8% to 8,153.58.

While hopes are building that a plateau may be arriving for infections in several hotspots, it’s not assured.

Thursday's gains were capped by another downdraft in oil prices, which have collapsed amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Benchmark U.S. crude oil fell $2.33, or 9.3%, to $22.76 per barrel after investors learned that Russia and members of OPEC had reached a preliminary agreement to reduce production by 10 million barrels a day. That is far short of what would be needed to offset the steep decline in demand because of the coronavirus shutdowns, said Dave Ernsberger, global head of commodities pricing at S&P Global Platts.

Brent crude fell $1.36, or 4.1%, to $31.48 per barrel.

OPEC said Friday that approval of the proposal for gradual cuts in output hinges on gaining Mexico’s agreement. The Group of 20 major economies will hold a teleconference Friday to further discuss global output.

In currency trading, the dollar fetched 108.42 Japanese yen, down from 108.46 yen on Thursday. The euro edged higher, to $1.0941 from $1.0931.


Jon Gambrell in Dubai contributed to this report.

Elaine Kurtenbach, The Associated Press

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