Asian Shares Extend Losses As Virus Spreads

Asian stocks fell on Wednesday, extending recent losses amid continued fears that the coronavirus outbreak could escalate into a pandemic.

The number of confirmed new coronavirus cases in South Korea topped 1,100 and outbreaks in Italy and Iran spread to more countries, raising concerns about the impact of the outbreak on global economic growth.

The flu-like virus has now spread to several countries in Europe and the Middle East, with Switzerland, Austria and Romania reporting their first infections on Tuesday.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that Americans should begin to prepare for community spread of the coronavirus in the U.S.

Chinese stocks fell notably as fears over the global coronavirus contagion intensified. Mainland China had 406 new confirmed cases of coronavirus infections on Tuesday, the country’s National Health Commission said, down from 508 cases a day earlier.

The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index fell 25.12 points, or 0.8 percent, to 2,987.93, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index slid 196.74 points, or 0.7 percent, to 26,696.49.

Japanese stocks hit a four-month low as Asia reported hundreds of new coronavirus cases, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe calling for sports and cultural events to be scrapped or curtailed for two weeks.

The Nikkei 225 Index ended down 179.22 points, or 0.8 percent, at 22,426.19, its lowest closing level since October 15, 2019. The broader Topix closed 0.8 percent lower at 1,606.17.

Mining, real estate and air transportation-linked companies were among the prominent decliners. Exporters also ended mostly lower, with Panasonic falling about 1 percent and Sony losing 1.6 percent. Oil company Inpex Corp. tumbled 2.9 percent and Japan Petroleum declined 1.7 percent.

Australian markets fell for a fourth straight session amid broad-based selling after U.S. health officials admitted that the United States is likely to suffer a coronavirus outbreak.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index tumbled 158.50 points, or 2.3 percent, to 6,708.10, while the broader All Ordinaries Index plunged 163.10 points, or 2.4 percent, to 6,790.70.

The big four banks fell between 1.7 percent and 2.1 percent, while mining heavyweights BHP and Rio Tinto lost 2.2 percent and 1.8 percent, respectively.

Energy stocks such as Woodside Petroleum, Oil Search, Santos and Beach Energy gave up 3-4 percent after oil prices fell on Tuesday to mark their lowest finish in two weeks.

Woolworths declined 2.7 percent as the supermarket giant reported a more than 7 percent decrease in profit for the first half despite higher revenue.

Meanwhile, Healius soared 15.2 percent after private equity firm Partners Group offered to acquire the medical centre operator for $2.12 billion.

Media company Nine Entertainment surged 6.5 percent as it reported higher first-half revenue following its merger with Fairfax.

Seoul stocks fell again after a brief rally in the previous session. The benchmark Kospi dropped 26.84 points, or 1.3 percent, to 2,076.77 as coronavirus infections spread rapidly in the country.

So far, the country has more than 1,100 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 12 deaths from the virus. Market heavyweight Samsung Electronics shed 2.4 percent and No. 2 chipmaker SK Hynix tumbled 3.5 percent.

South Korea’s confidence among manufacturers decreased in February, while sentiment among non-manufacturers declined for the second straight month, survey data from Bank of Korea showed today.

New Zealand shares fell sharply amid the global sell-off. The benchmark
NZX 50 Index dropped 185.37 points, or 1.6 percent, to 11,533.86, with Port of Tauranga and Sky Network Television tumbling 6-7 percent.

U.S. stocks fell for the fourth straight session overnight as the coronavirus spread to new countries, including Spain and Romania, and officials said it was “a rapidly escalating epidemic.”

The Dow Jones Industrial Average tumbled 3.2 percent to its lowest closing level in nearly four months, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite plummeted 2.8 percent and the S&P 500 slumped 3 percent.

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