US and European stock markets rebounded Monday, but the danger of ever more volatility kept investors' nerves under strain.
Wild price swings accompanied last week's heavy stock market losses, the worst weekly equity slump in years, making it hard for investors to read the market with any degree of confidence from one moment to the next.
"Investors are breathing a sigh of relief after the torrid times last week," said Rebecca O'Keeffe, head of investment at Interactive Investor.
"Buying the dip (bargain hunting) has been a very difficult call in recent days, with every attempt at engagement punished in subsequent market moves, so investors will be hoping that this is a genuine buying opportunity."
But such hopes may well be premature, some analysts cautioned.
- 'Won't last' -
"Investors will be aware the calm probably won't last," said Jasper Lawler, head of research at LCG.
Brokers Charles Schwab described Wall Street as remaining "skittish" while Capital Economics calculated that the valuation of American stocks "appears stretched by most measures" even after last week's brutal correction.
Michael Hewson at CMC Markets, meanwhile, said that there is "a whole new breed of equity investors and traders who have never experienced the type of volatility that we've gone through over the last few days", making their "untried reaction" another factor of market uncertainty.
At the heart of market worries lies the rapidly rising likelihood of monetary policy tightening by key central banks, notably the Federal Reserve, but also the European Central Bank and the Bank of England, as inflationary pressures build up.
Analysts are now predicting that Wednesday's US inflation report for January, coupled with fresh retail sales data, may well spark another rollercoaster ride for equities if they confirm inflationary fears.
A weak reading, however, may give US monetary policymakers a reason to hold off on raising rates at a faster clip.
- Yield watching -
The sudden market fragility comes after a stellar 2017 and a January that saw record and multi-year highs for stock markets around the world, after years of post-financial crisis stimulus.
But as central banks pull back, there is now concern that big spending plans by the US government may boost the budget deficit, making the case for higher rates more pressing still.
Rising yields on government bonds are an indication that such a scenario is seen as likely in the markets, with investors demanding higher interest rates if they are to accept future inflation eating into their returns.
"Should yields march further higher – which is quite possible with the upcoming US inflation and retail sales data to look forward to on Wednesday – then there is a possibility the equity markets could be in for another volatile week," predicted Fawad Razaqzada at Forex.com.
- Asia soft -
Monday got off to a calm start across Asia but while some exchanges managed to stay in positive territory, the afternoon saw gains eroded or wiped out.
Hong Kong, which sank more than nine percent last week, closed slightly lower, while Shanghai and Singapore both posted modest gains.
Seoul also gained, with traders cheered by signs of a thaw in relations between North and South Korea during the Winter Olympics.
Tokyo, a benchmark for Asian market trends, was closed for a public holiday.
In commodities trading, both main oil contracts climbed on Monday after sliding last week.
Bitcoin, another hotbed of volatility, recovered slightly from Friday's levels.
The dollar's attempted recovery appeared to fizzle out by the European afternoon, with the greenback lower against both the euro and the yen.
- Key figures around 1635 GMT -
London - FTSE 100: UP 1.2 percent at 7,177.06 points (close)
Frankfurt - DAX 30: UP 1.5 percent at 12,282.77 (close)
Paris - CAC 40: UP 1.2 percent at 5,140.06 (close)
EURO STOXX 50: UP 1.3 percent at 3,368.25
New York - DOW: UP 1.1 percent at 24,455.96
Hong Kong - Hang Seng: DOWN 0.2 percent at 29,459.63 (close)
Shanghai - Composite: UP 0.8 percent at 3,154.13 (close)
Tokyo - Nikkei 225: Closed for a public holiday
Euro/dollar: UP at $1.2274 from $1.2249 at 2200 GMT on Friday
Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.3814 from $1.3828
Dollar/yen: DOWN at 108.56 yen from 108.78 yen
Oil - Brent North Sea: UP 45 cents at $63.24 per barrel
Oil - West Texas Intermediate: UP 78 cents at $59.98