Fears of pandemic send stocks lower, safe havens in demand

SINGAPORE/SYDNEY (Reuters) – Asian stocks and currencies tumbled further on Thursday, as the rising death toll from a virus spreading from China led airlines to cut flights and stores to close, increasing pressure on the world’s second-largest economy as fears of a pandemic grow.

FILE PHOTO: Investors look at computer screens showing stock information at a brokerage house in Shanghai, China January 16, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song

European stocks are also set to fall. EuroSTOXX 50 futures STXEc1 and DAX futures FDXc1 are down 0.8%. FTSE futures FFIc1 point to a negative open in London. U.S. stock futures ESc1, down 0.6%, suggest a negative open on Wall Street.

The number of confirmed deaths from the virus in China has climbed to 170 with 7,711 people infected, and more cases are being reported around the world.

Chinese factories have extended holidays, global airlines cut flights and Sweden’s Ikea said it would shut all of its stores in China to help contain the outbreak. Economists have begun slashing the country’s growth outlook.

“The news flow in the past couple of hours has been quite bleak,” said Prashant Newnaha a Singapore-based strategist at TD Securities. “So the risk off tone continues.”

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS fell 2% to a seven-week low and has now dropped for six straight sessions.

Japan’s Nikkei .N225 fell nearly 2%. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng .HSI fell 2.3% and Taiwan’s benchmark index .TWII slumped 5.8% in its first session since the Lunar New Year break.

Yields on benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasuries, which fall when prices rise, hit a three-month low of 1.5600% US10YT=RR. Gold nudged higher XAU=.

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The World Health Organisation’s Emergency Committee is due to reconvene later in the day to decide whether the rapid spread of the virus now constitutes a global emergency.

“There’s a buyers strike. Lot of reasons to sell and no reason to buy, so you’re seeing this bleeding,” said Chris Weston, Head of Research at Melbourne brokerage Pepperstone.

“There is some concern about tonight’s presser by the WHO. The fear is that they might raise the alarm bells…so people are taking money off the table.”

Singapore-traded futures for Chinese markets SFCc1 – which have been closed since Jan. 23 and re-open on Monday – dropped 2% and have fallen 10% in the 10 days since the spread of the virus began to roil markets.


Trade exposed Asian currencies and commodities sensitive to Chinese demand extended losses as economists made deep cuts to their China growth forecasts.

The Chinese yuan CNH= reversed Wednesday’s gains to weaken 0.2%. The Australian dollar AUD=D3 hit a 3-1/2-month low and the kiwi dollar NZD=D3 was a fraction above a two-month low.

The Taiwan dollar TWD=TP fell half a percentage point to its lowest this year. The Thai baht THB=TH, exposed to inbound tourism from China, has shed 3% in a week.

Oil prices, a barometer of the expected impact of the virus on the world’s economy, resumed their slide. Brent crude LCOc1 shed a percentage point and has dropped 10% since Jan 20.

Chicago soybean futures slid for an eighth straight session on growing fears that promised Chinese purchases of U.S. farm goods will not materialize.

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“China is the kingpin of the global commodities market,” ING economists said in a note. “The longer factories remain closed, travel restricted and construction stalled, the larger the ramifications.”

SARS 2.0?

Most analysts have looked to the impact from the 2002-2003 spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed 800 people and pounded tourism and confidence, albeit briefly.

Yet the number of infections has already almost exceeded the 8,000 total SARS cases and, nearly two decades later, China’s share of the world economy has increased fourfold.

Citi expects China’s 2020 growth to slow to 5.5% because of the virus, after previously predicting it to be 5.8%, with the sharpest slowdown this quarter. That is even more bearish than J.P. Morgan and ING economists, who foresee a slowdown to 5.6.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell acknowledged on Wednesday the risks from any slowdown in the Chinese economy but said it was too early to say what the extent of the impact would be on the United States.

“SARS is a base case but until we get more information it’s very difficult for markets to gauge,” said Jim McCafferty, Joint Head of APAC Equity Research at Nomura in Hong Kong.

“It’s very difficult for investors to get a gauge for the magnitude of this, if this is going to be multi-day or a multi-week or a multi-month event.”

Editing by Sam Holmes and Jacqueline Wong



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