Asian Shares Mostly Lower As Virus Spreads

Asian stocks ended Friday's session mostly lower after China reported an uptick in new coronavirus cases, raising concerns the COVID-19 epidemic will eventually expand rapidly beyond its center in China. The new cases are mushrooming beyond China, most notably in Japan and South Korea.

In a note for G20 finance ministers and central bankers, the International Monetary Fund warned that the outbreak was a stark reminder of how unforeseen events could threaten a fragile recovery.

Chinese shares ended off their day's highs after the National Health Commission reported a total of 75,465 confirmed cases and 2,236 deaths on the mainland by the end of Thursday.

The government reported 1,109 new confirmed cases of the disease during the same period, sharply up from 349 cases the previous day, reversing three days of decline.

China's commerce ministry said January and February exports and imports will be hit by the epidemic that has severely disrupted the world's second-largest economy.

The benchmark Shanghai Composite index ended the session up 9.51 points, or 0.31 percent, at 3,039.67, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng index fell 1.09 percent to 27,308.81.

Japanese shares ended a choppy session lower as a sudden rise in the number of coronavirus infections outside of China dented sentiment. Twenty-three people were confirmed to be infected with the new coronavirus in Japan on Thursday, bringing the total number of reported infections to 728.

The Nikkei average ended down 92.41 points, or 0.39 percent, at 23,386.74 as investors adopted a cautious stance ahead of a long weekend. The broader Topix index closed marginally lower at 1,674.

Sanrio tumbled 3.3 percent after the character goods company said it would shut its amusement parks. Tokyo Disney Resort operator Oriental Land Corp declined 2.5 percent.

Toyota Motor climbed 1.1 percent and Panasonic gained half a percent as the yen headed for its worst week in two-and-a-half years on concerns about the coronavirus' spread in South Korea, Japan and Beijing.

In economic news, Japan's consumer price index increased 0.7 percent year-on-year in January, slower than 0.8 percent rise in the preceding month, official data showed. This was in line with economists' expectation. In November, inflation was 0.5 percent.

Australian markets fell from a record high hit in the previous session on fears over spreading coronavirus in China and other Asian countries. The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index dropped 23.50 points, or 0.33 percent, to 7,139, while the broader All Ordinaries index ended down 24.80 points, or 0.34 percent, at 7,230.40.

Mining heavyweights BHP and Rio Tinto declined 0.8 percent and half a percent, respectively. In the healthcare sector, biotech firm CSL shed 0.7 percent while hearing implants maker Cochlear tumbled as much as 4.4 percent.

Energy giant Santos dropped 1.9 percent to extend losses from the previous session after posting a flat annual profit. Origin Energy gave up 1.8 percent. Poultry group Inghams lost 4.4 percent as it reported a 69 percent drop in first-half profit.

Gold miner Evolution Mining edged up slightly and Newcrest Mining advanced 1.5 percent after gold prices gained for a sixth straight session overnight.

Seoul stocks tumbled and the won suffered its biggest loss in 4-1/2 years after trade data showed a slump in Chinese demand. The benchmark Kospi gave up 32.66 points, or 1.49 percent, to finish at 2,162.84.

South Korea's exports to China shrank 3.7 percent year-over-year in the first 20 days of February and overall sales per working day tumbled as a virus outbreak disrupted global supply chains, customs data showed.

Meanwhile, the government declared a "special management zone" around a southeastern city as health authorities reported 52 new cases of the fast-spreading disease, raising the national tally in the country to 156.

The mayor of the southeastern city of Daegu urged the city's 2.5 million people to stay home and wear masks even indoors if possible.

New Zealand shares fluctuated before finishing marginally higher. Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Corp shares jumped 3.4 percent after the healthcare appliance manufacturer raised its profit forecasts for the third time this year.

Malaysia's KLSE Composite index was losing 0.4 percent. A government report showed that the country's consumer price index rose 1.6 percent year-on-year in January following a 1.0 percent increase in December. That was in line with economists' expectation.

U.S. stocks ended lower overnight as investors fretted about the spread of coronavirus outside China. The Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 shed around 0.4 percent while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite index declined 0.7 percent.



by WooHoo Ireland


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