Asian markets bomb as virus fears fuel global turmoil

People wait in line to buy face masks from a department store in Seoul (AFP Photo/-)

 Asian and European equities spiralled downwards Friday, extending a collapse in world markets that has wiped trillions of dollars off valuations as the coronavirus spread rapidly around the world with the WHO warning the deadly epidemic was now at a “decisive point”.

Tokyo, Shanghai, Sydney, Singapore and Seoul were among the bourses that fell more than three percent while Jakarta was hammered more than four percent.

The casualties have put equities around the world on course to record their worst week since the global financial crisis more than a decade ago as investors run to the hills on fears the virus will smash the global economy.

And while the panic has already caused a bloodbath on trading floors, there are warnings there could be worse to come.-

The Dow suffered its biggest points loss on record, shedding almost 1,200 points, while its 4.4 percent drop marked the worst performance in two years. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq also tanked more than four percent.

The VIX “fear” index is now at its highest level since 2011 during the European debt crisis.

President Donald Trump blamed the market plunge on the media coverage of the coronavirus and worries about Democrats winning the White House race.

The heavy selling came as authorities in California said they were monitoring some 8,400 people for COVID-19 after officials confirmed a woman had contracted it without travelling to any of the outbreak-hit regions.

“Even though the market is pricing in the fear of economic issues and disease hitting the US, we haven’t actually seen the emergence of clusters” in the US, Steve Englander of Standard Chartered told Bloomberg TV. “Once that happens we will see another sell-off.”

After Thursday’s battering, Asia picked up the baton. Tokyo tanked 3.7 percent, Shanghai dived 3.7 percent, Seoul gave up 3.3 percent and Sydney dropped 3.3 percent.

Hong Kong retreated 2.4 percent, while Singapore sank 3.1 percent, Jakarta dived 4.1 percent and Bangkok lost 3.4 percent.

Mumbai was 3.1 percent down and Manila eased 2.5 percent, with Wellington 1.5 percent in the red.

In early trade, London, Paris and Frankfurt each plunged 3.3 percent, having all lost more than three percent Thursday.

The losses have seen many markets lose around a tenth of their value in just a week.

– ‘Decisive point’ –

The rush to safety has also seen the dollar surge against most higher-yielding, riskier currencies, with the New Zealand dollar, the South African rand and the Russian ruble all more than one percent lower.

Australia’s dollar, the Indonesian rupiah and the Indian rupee were also sharply down. But the dollar was well off against the safe-haven yen.

The virus has now killed 2,856 people and infected more than 83,000 worldwide, with an increasing number of new cases being reported each day.

Lithuania, New Zealand and Nigeria on Friday reported their first cases, as officials around the world move to contain the outbreak in their countries as fears of a global pandemic grow.

The operator of Tokyo’s Disneyland and DisneySea closed the parks for around two weeks, while Saudi Arabia banned pilgrims from visiting Islam’s holiest sites as the number of deaths jumped in neighbouring Iran. Japan and Iraq have also ordered the closure of schools.

World Health Organization boss Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Thursday the world was at a “decisive point” and countries could still contain the epidemic if they “act aggressively now”.

“No country should assume it won’t get cases; that could be a fatal mistake, quite literally. This virus does not respect borders,” Tedros said in Geneva.

The rate of increase in China continues to fall and there are signs the country is slowly creaking back to life with shops reopening, including Starbucks, which has resumed operations at all its outlets.

But Moody’s Analytics said the regional economy faced severe repercussions.

“With economic activity in China severely depleted by the virus, the repercussions will flow through to the rest of the region,” it said in a commentary.

Crude prices were again hit, with both main contracts losing more than two percent, on expectations the crisis will put a massive dent in demand. Oil has now fallen more than 20 percent since the start of the year.

Investors are keeping an eye on central banks, particularly the US Federal Reserve, hoping for monetary easing measures, while governments are also facing pressure to provide support.

– Key figures around 0820 GMT –

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: DOWN 3.7 percent at 21,142.96 (close)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: DOWN 2.4 percent at 26,129.93 (close)

Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 3.7 percent at 2,880.30 (close)

London – FTSE 100: DOWN 3.3 percent at 6,573.43

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 108.92 from 109.69 at 2200 GMT

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1000 from $1.0998

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2871 from $1.2886

Euro/pound: UP at 85.43 pence from 85.34 pence

Brent Crude: DOWN 3.0 percent at $50.64 per barrel

West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 3.3 percent at $45.53

New York – Dow: DOWN 4.4 percent at 25,766.64 (close)


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