Asian markets rebound but killer virus fuels new SARS fears

by AFP/ pic by AFP

HONG KONG – Asian markets bounced back Wedneday on bargain-buying following the previous day’s sharp losses but investors remained on edge after a deadly virus from China was confirmed to have spread to the United States.

Global equities took a severe hit on fears the new outbreak, which has killed nine and sickened hundreds, could cause as much economic damage as the SARS epidemic that killed hundreds of people in 2003.

Shanghai dived more than one percent in early trade, extending the previous day’s 1.4 percent drop, with authorities battling to contain the coronavirus strain as China prepares for the Lunar New Year holidays, when millions of people travel across the country.

Officials warned Wednesday the strain could mutate and spread.

However, Chinese mainland shares performed a U-turn to end the day with gains.

Tourism-linked firms – which had by hit on concerns about the impact on the global economy just as it shows signs of a tentative recovery from a long-running slowdown – also enjoyed a reverse.

After a sell-off in Asia on Tuesday, news that the US had reported its first case hit Wall Street with the Dow and S&P 500 sinking from record highs.

Fears of a bigger outbreak rose after a prominent expert from China’s National Health Commission confirmed Monday that the virus can be passed between people.

The World Health Organization will hold an emergency meeting later Wednesday to determine whether to declare a global public health emergency over the disease, which has also been detected in Thailand, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

Focus on data

“While it is still early days, there is a risk that any outbreak could depress consumer sentiment and spending, including tourism as well as travel and transport related business,” said National Australia Bank’s Rodrigo Catril.

“In addition to the sad and devastating human cost, (SARS) also had an economic impact with epicentres such as Hong Kong enduring a short-lived recession.

“This time the epicentre is in China, so the economic growth impact could be more severe.”

Most markets across Asia were in positive territory Wednesday as traders kept tabs on developments linked to the virus.

“The main focus for investors still appears to be on the underlying economic data,” said Michael Hewson of CMC Markets UK.

Tokyo ended up 0.7 percent, while Hong Kong added 1.2 percent following a 2.8 percent plunge the previous day.

Sydney rose 0.9 percent, Wellington added 0.7 percent and Singapore put on 0.2 percent. Seoul climbed more than one percent after data showed South Korea’s economic growth rallied at the end of last year, indicating a bright outlook for 2020. There were small losses in Manila and Mumbai.

“I would expect a lot of people – candidly, like we are – that are looking for opportunities to buy rather than sell” the dip in stocks caused contagion worries, Lamar Villere, of Villere & Co, told Bloomberg TV.

Key figures around 0710 GMT

  • Tokyo – Nikkei 225: UP 0.7 percent at 24,031.35 (close)
  • Hong Kong – Hang Seng: UP 1.2 percent at 28,307.41
  • Shanghai – Composite: UP 0.3 percent at 3,060.75 (close)
  • Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.1082 from $1.1086 at 2130 GMT
  • Pound/dollar: UP at $1.3058 from $1.3043
  • Euro/pound: DOWN at 84.85 pence from 84.99 pence
  • Dollar/yen: UP at 110.04 yen from 109.83 yen
  • Brent Crude: DOWN 27 cents at $64.32 per barrel
  • West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 32 cents at $58.06
  • New York – DOW: DOWN 0.5 percent at 29,196.04 (close)
  • London – FTSE 100: DOWN 0.5 percent at 7,610.70 (close)