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US stocks brush aside record unemployment surge

By AFP - Mar 26,2020 - Last updated at Mar 26,2020

Pedestrians are reflected in a window displaying a quotation board of numbers on the Tokyo stock Exchange in Tokyo on Thursday (AFP photo)

LONDON — US stocks shot higher at the opening bell on Thursday, brushing aside a record surge in unemployment benefit claims, as a massive stimulus plan advanced.

Meanwhile, European and leading Asian stock markets were back in the red as investors there once again focused on the devastating economic fallout the coronavirus pandemic is expected to wreak.

In one of the latest indications of that impact, the US Labor Department said first time unemployment claims soared to 3.3 million last week — the highest number ever recorded.

That compares to 281,000 first-time filers in the prior week and blows away the previous record of 695,000 set in October 1982.

"The key takeaway from the report is that it underscores for everyone how much worse the current economic situation is than anything else experienced in this modern age," said market analyst Patrick O'Hare at Briefing.com.

"In a counterintuitive way, then, this jarring initial claims report could be the headline that was needed to ensure the House moves just as quickly as it can to pass the fiscal stimulus bill," he said.

 The House of Representatives is expected to vote on an unprecedented $2-trillion stimulus package as early as Friday. The dollar was down sharply against its main rivals.

In Europe, stocks were lower.   In afternoon trading, London shares were down 1.8 per cent, while Frankfurt slid 1.7 per cent and Paris 1.6 per cent.

In Asia on Thursday, Tokyo's main stocks index ended down 4.5 per cent after surging by almost one fifth over the previous three days, while Hong Kong shed 0.7 per cent and Shanghai eased 0.6 per cent.  Singapore lost more than one per cent.

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