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Killer virus fears strike markets

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The outbreak of the deadly virus comes days before the Lunar New Year festival. AFP

Killer virus fears strike markets

Asian markets bounced back on Wednesday on bargain-buying following the previous day’s sharp losses but investors remained on edge after a deadly virus from China was confirmed to have spread to the US.

Global equities took a severe hit on fears the new outbreak, which has killed nine and sickened hundreds, could cause as much economic damage as the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) epidemic that killed hundreds of people in 2003.

Shanghai dived more than one percent in early trade, extending the previous day’s 1.4 per cent drop, with authorities battling to contain the coronavirus strain as China prepares for the Lunar New Year holidays, when millions of people travel across the country.

Officials warned Wednesday the strain could mutate and spread.

However, Chinese mainland shares performed a U-turn to end the day with gains.

Tourism-linked firms – which had been hit by concerns about the impact on the global economy just as it shows signs of a tentative recovery from a long-running slowdown – also enjoyed a reverse.

After a sell-off in Asia on Tuesday, news that the US had reported its first case of the new virus hit Wall Street with the Dow and S&P 500 sinking from record highs.

Fears of a bigger outbreak rose after a prominent expert from China’s National Health Commission confirmed on Monday that the virus can be passed between people.

Focus on data

The World Health Organisation will hold an emergency meeting later on Wednesday to determine whether to declare a global public health emergency over the disease, which has also been detected in Thailand, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

“While it is still early days, there is a risk that any outbreak could depress consumer sentiment and spending, including tourism as well as travel and transport-related business,” said National Australia Bank’s Rodrigo Catril.

“In addition to the sad and devastating human cost, [Sars] also had an economic impact with epicentres such as Hong Kong enduring a short-lived recession.

“This time the epicentre is in China, so the economic growth impact could be more severe.”

Most markets across Asia were in positive territory Wednesday as traders kept tabs on developments linked to the virus.

“The main focus for investors still appears to be on the underlying economic data,” said Michael Hewson of CMC Markets UK.

Tokyo ended up 0.7 per cent, while Hong Kong added 1.3 per cent following a 2.8 percent plunge the previous day.

Sydney rose 0.9 per cent, Wellington added 0.7 per cent and Singapore put on 0.2 per cent. Seoul climbed more than one per cent after data showed South Korea’s economic growth rallied at the end of last year, indicating a bright outlook for 2020. There were small losses in Manila and Mumbai.

“I would expect a lot of people – candidly, like we are – that are looking for opportunities to buy rather than sell” the dip in stocks caused by contagion worries, Lamar Villere, of Villere & Co, told Bloomberg TV.

In early trade London and Paris both rose 0.2 per cent, while Frankfurt added 0.4 per cent.

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