Asian Shares Mostly Lower On Growing Virus Concerns

Asian stocks ended mostly lower on Wednesday after the Trump administration warned that the coronavirus pandemic could kill 250,000 Americans and that the next two weeks will be "very painful".

In economic news, China's Caixin PMI indicated a slight expansion in manufacturing, while Japan's big manufacturers turned pessimistic for the first time in more than seven years in March, separate reports showed today.

Chinese shares ended lower as the National Health Commission reported 36 new cases of coronavirus infection for the mainland, all but one from people arriving from abroad.

The benchmark Shanghai Composite index dropped 15.77 points, or 0.57 percent, to 2,734.52, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng index fell 2.19 percent to 23,085.79.

Chinese manufacturers reported a broadly stable business condition in March after deteriorating the most on record in February due to the strict measures taken to stem the spread of coronavirus. According to the survey conducted by IHS Markit, the manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index rose to 50.1 in March from 40.3 in February.

Japanese stocks plunged after a measure of sentiment among Japan's large manufacturers plunged in January-March, marking the fifth straight quarter of declines and the longest downturn since the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008.

Large manufacturing in Japan weakened again in the first quarter of 2020, the Bank of Japan's quarterly Tankan Survey on business sentiment showed with a diffusion index score of -8 because of the global Covid-19 pandemic.

Separately, the latest survey from Jibun Bank revealed that the manufacturing sector in Japan continued to contract in March, and at a faster rate with a manufacturing PMI score of 44.8, down from 47.8 in February.

The Nikkei average tumbled over 1,000 points at one point before recovering some lost ground to end the session down 851.60 points, or 4.50 percent, at 18,065.41. The broader Topix index closed 3.70 percent lower at 1,351.08.

Nisshin Seifun Group, Nippon Sheet Glass, Nippon Suisan Kaisha and ANA Holdings gave up 7-9 percent.

Australian markets posted strong gains, with energy companies leading the surge after crude oil prices rose almost 2 percent overnight. The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 rallied 181.80 points, or 3.58 percent, to 5,258.60, while the broader All Ordinaries index ended up 180.10 points, or 3.52 percent, at 5,290.70.

Woodside Petroleum soared 7.9 percent, Santos surged 9.7 percent and Oil Search jumped as much as 12.6 percent. Miners BHP, Fortescue Metals Group and Rio Tinto rose 4-5 percent while banks Westpac, NAB and Commonwealth gained 1-3 percent.

In economic news, the total number of building permits issued in Australia rose a seasonally adjusted 19.9 percent sequentially in February - beating forecasts for an increase of 3.0 percent following the 15.3 percent decline in January. On a yearly basis, total approvals fell 5.8 percent.

A measure of Australian manufacturing activity climbed back into expansion in March, with a seasonally adjusted Performance of Manufacturing Index score of 53.7, up sharply from 44.3 in February.

The minutes of the monetary policy meeting of Reserve Bank of Australia revealed that the central bank believes the country will undergo a very material contraction over the first half of the year.

Seoul stocks sank amid extended selloff by foreign investors on fears over a worsening economic outlook. The Kospi average ended a choppy session down 69.18 points, or 3.94 percent, at 1,685.46. Market bellwether Samsung Electronics plunged 4.1 percent and No. 2 chipmaker SK Hynix plummeted 5.9 percent.

The manufacturing sector in South Korea continued to contract in March, and at a faster rate, the latest survey from IHS Markit revealed with a PMI score of 44.2, down from 48.7 in February.

New Zealand shares advanced, with the benchmark NZX-50 index ending up 129.33 points, or 1.32 percent, at 9,926.08. Gaming company Sky City Entertainment Group, which has embarked on a cost-cutting program, jumped over 9 percent. Kathmandu Holdings entered a trading halt after the outdoor clothing company announced a plan to raise up to $207 million.

The Taiwan Weighted was down half a percent, Indonesia's Jakarta Composite index was losing 1.4 percent and Malaysia's KLSE Composite was declining 1 percent as investors digest the latest manufacturing readings.

U.S. stocks ended lower overnight as coronavirus worries overshadowed better-than-expected reports on consumer confidence and Chicago-area business activity.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average tumbled 1.8 percent and the S&P 500 shed 1.6 percent to record their worst first quarter performances ever, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite lost 1 percent. 



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