Asian markets hammered as China steps up virus response

by AFP/ pic by AFP

HONG KONG – Investor nerves over the spread of a deadly new virus from China hammered Asian equities and oil benchmarks on Thursday, as authorities moved to contain the disease.

More than 570 people have been infected with the coronavirus across China and Wuhan, the city at the centre of the outbreak, has been placed under effective quarantine.

Shanghai tumbled 2.8 percent in the final day of trading before a weeklong market holiday for the Lunar New Year, when hundreds of millions of people travel across China – raising fears of the contagion spreading further.

It was the biggest pre-Lunar New Year fall on record for the bourse.

Hong Kong was trading 1.9 percent lower in afternoon trade while Tokyo closed 1.0 percent down.

OANDA senior market analyst Jeffrey Halley said it was “quite understandable that some money would be taken off the table until the true extent of the coronavirus issue becomes obvious”.

The virus has caused alarm because of its similarity to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed hundreds of people in 2002-2003.

“China’s importance in the overall global supply chain and the fact they are a huge export market for many countries… opens up a more unfavourable global outcome this time around,” Stephen Innes, chief market strategist of AxiCorp, said in a note.

Oil prices were hit hard in overnight trade with both major indexes down by more than 1.3 percent.

“Given the importance of China for oil demand and having the outbreak falling on the cusp of peak domestic travel season, the timing is particularly damaging,” Innes said.

The World Health Organization has so far demurred from declaring a global health emergency – a rare instrument used only for the worst outbreaks.

China had taken “very, very strong measures” to contain the outbreak, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday.

Euro tariff threat

The pound strengthened sharply overnight after an industry report showed rising optimism among British manufacturers, upping the chances of a Bank of England rate cut later this month.

But the London bourse closed 0.5 percent lower and European stocks were hit Wednesday after US President Donald Trump’s renewed threat to impose tariffs on imported cars and a gloomy auto sales forecast.

Trump once again warned of a possible 25 percent punitive tax on European cars if Brussels fails to agree to a trade deal.

Shares in carmakers fell with Daimler dropping more than two percent – the Mercedes parent company also warning of a likely 2019 earnings shortfall due to massive new charges related to its diesel emissions cheating scandal.

Wall Street equities finished flat, with indexes barely stirred by either strong local earnings reports or the rising death toll in the coronavirus outbreak.

Key figures around 0730 GMT

  • Tokyo – Nikkei 225: DOWN 1.0 percent at 23,795.44 (close)
  • Hong Kong – Hang Seng: DOWN 1.9 percent at 27,807.92
  • Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 2.8 percent at 2,976.53 (close)
  • Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1090 from $1.1082
  • Pound/dollar: UP at $1.3137 from $1.3049
  • Euro/pound: DOWN at 84.43 pence from 84.92 pence
  • Dollar/yen: DOWN at 109.58 yen from 109.93 yen
  • Brent Crude: DOWN 85 cents at $62.36 per barrel
  • West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 92 cents at $55.82 per barrel
  • New York – DOW: FLAT at 29,186.27 (close)
  • London – FTSE 100: DOWN 0.5 percent at 7,571.93 (close)