Asian Shares Decline As China Virus Fears Grow




Asian stocks fell on Thursday after deaths from China's new coronavirus rose to 17 on Wednesday, with nearly 600 cases confirmed.


Investors remain worried about the contagion as the week-long Lunar New Year holidays starts on Friday, when millions of Chinese travel domestically and abroad.


Chinese shares plunged on concerns the deadly virus will worsen over China's week-long trading break. The benchmark Shanghai Composite index tumbled 84.23 points, or 2.75 percent, to 2,976.53, marking its worst end to a Lunar Year in its three-decade history.


Hong Kong's Hang Seng index dropped 1.52 percent to 27,909.12 as Beijing tries to contain the new SARS-like virus.


Japanese shares hit two-week low amid heightened anxiety about the spread of a new coronavirus in China. Investors were also wary ahead of corporate earnings.


The Nikkei average fell 235.91 points, or 0.98 percent, to 23,795.44, while the broader Topix index closed 0.78 percent lower at 1,730.50.


Commodity-related and other cyclical stocks paced the decliners as the rapidly spreading coronavirus stoked worries about economic growth in China and a dent in the travel sector in the Asia Pacific.


Exporters also declined as the yen firmed to a 1-1/2-week high versus the dollar on safe-haven buying. Semiconductor automated test equipment maker Advantest rallied 2.5 percent after its U.S. competitor Teradyne's fourth quarter earnings beat estimates.


In economic news, Japan posted a merchandise trade deficit of 152.5 billion yen in December, a government report showed. That narrowly beat forecasts for a shortfall of 152.6 billion yen following the 85.2 billion yen deficit in November.


Exports were down 6.3 percent year on year, missing expectations for a drop of 4.3 percent, while imports sank an annual 4.9 percent versus forecasts for a decline of 3.2 percent.


Australian markets fell notably as a tumble in oil prices pulled down energy stocks and upbeat jobs data tempered rate cut expectations. The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index dropped 44.70 points, or 0.63 percent, to 7,088, while the broader All Ordinaries index ended down 50 points, or 0.69 percent, at 7,199.


Heavyweight CIMIC Group lost as much as 20 percent after it decided to exit the Middle East. Engineering services provider Downer EDI gave up 18 percent after cutting its full year profits guidance.


Origin Energy, Oil Search, Worley and Santos declined 1-2 percent after oil prices dropped sharply overnight on worries of excess supplies. Beach Energy shares slumped 6 percent.


Biotherapeutics firm CSL eased 0.4 percent on profit taking after scaling a new peak in the previous session.


Australia's inflation expectations increased in January, survey data from the Melbourne Institute showed today. The expected inflation rate increased 0.7 percentage points to 4.7 percent in January.


Separately, the unemployment rate in Australia came in at a seasonally adjusted 5.1 percent in December. That beat forecasts for 5.2 percent, which would have been unchanged from the November reading.


The Australian economy added 28,900 jobs last month, beating expectations for an increase of 10,000 jobs after gaining 38,500 jobs in the previous month.


Seoul stocks ended sharply lower amid rising concerns over the spread of Wuhan coronavirus. The benchmark Kospi gave up 21.12 points, or 0.93 percent, to finish at 2,246.13 ahead of the Lunar New year's holiday break that runs Friday through Monday.


Market heavyweight Samsung Electronics tumbled 2.4 percent and South Korea's No. 2 chipmaker, SK Hynix Inc., fell 2.3 percent. Samsung BioLogics surged 6.9 percent and Hyundai Motor advanced 2.8 percent.


New Zealand shares fluctuated before finishing marginally higher.


U.S. stocks ended narrowly mixed overnight after reaching fresh record intraday highs on the back of upbeat earnings news from IBM Corp and an easing of concerns over a new coronavirus outbreak originating in China.

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