Asia shares fight for footing after rough virus-scarred week

Reuters SYDNEY | Updated on January 31, 2020

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan extended its fall, dropping 0.4 per cent, to be poised for its worst weekly loss in a year of 4.6 per cent. File Photo   -  Reuters

Asian share markets fought to regain their footing on Friday as investors clutched at hopes China could contain the coronavirus, even as headlines spoke of more cases, mounting deaths, flight suspensions and production pauses at factories.

The World Health Organisation on Thursday declared a global emergency as the virus spread to more countries.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, said the greatest worry was the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan extended its fall, dropping 0.4 per cent, to be poised for its worst weekly loss in a year of 4.6 per cent. Its 2.3 per cent dive on Thursday had been the sharpest one-day loss in six months.

Japan's Nikkei bounced 1 per cent, but again was off 2.6 per cent for the week. Hong Kong's Hang Seng drifted 0.3 per cent lower and has shed 9 per cent in the two weeks since the virus began roiling financial markets. Korea's Kospi had its worst week in 15 months, losing 5.6 per cent.

Halting further slides were WHO comments that the drastic steps Beijing was taking would “reverse the tide” and contain the outbreak.

E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 added 0.1 per cent, having rebounded 0.5 per cent late on Thursday. European bourses looked set to open firmer with EUROSTOXX 50 futures up 0.5 per cent and the FTSE 0.5 per cent.

Helping the mood, too, were surveys showing Chinese manufacturing activity came in much as expected in January while services actually firmed, though this was likely before the virus took full hold.

Indeed, reports some Chinese provinces were asking companies not to re-start until February 10 suggested activity would take a hard knock this month.

“Some shorts covered after the director gave the WHO's stamp of approval to China's aggressive containment effort,” said Stephen Innes, Asia Pacific market strategist at AxiCorp.

“For now, the market's risk lights have shifted from flickering on red to a steady shade of amber, which could bring more risk back into play.”

Sentiment also received a timely boost when Amazon's sales blew past forecasts and sent its stock soaring 11 per cent after hours, adding over $100 billion in market worth.

Still, the flow of news on the virus remained bleak with China's Hubei province reporting deaths from the disease had risen by 42 to 204 as of the end of January 30.

More airlines curtailed flights into and out of China and companies temporarily closed operations, while the US State Department told citizens not to travel to any part of China.

JPMorgan shaved its forecast for global growth by 0.3 per cent points for this quarter to reflect the growing impact.

“Based on the patterns observed from other epidemics, we assume that the outbreak will likely run its course over 2-3 months, meaning the hit to activity happens in the current quarter” JPMorgan analysts said in a note.

“Also in line with historical experience, we expect a full recovery to follow.”



The drum beat of bad news kept safe-haven bonds well bid, with yields on US 10-year Treasuries down 9 basis points for the week so far and near four-month lows.

The yield curve between three-month bills and 10-year notes had also inverted twice this week, a bearish economic signal.

In currencies, sterling held firm after jumping on Thursday when the Bank of England confounded market expectations by not cutting interest rates.

The pound was last at $1.3098, a relatively calm performance given Friday is the day the UK officially leaves the European Union after years of political turmoil.

The dollar took a knock overnight when data showed the US economy grew at its slowest annual pace in three years and personal consumption weakened sharply.

Yet it was up a fraction on the yen on Friday at 109.03 and stronger on the euro at $1.1016.

Most of the action this week has been nervous investors selling emerging currencies for dollars and yen, leaving the majors little changed against each other.

Spot gold was flat for the week at $1,573.72 per ounce , having failed to get much of a safe-haven bid as a range of other commodities, from copper to soy beans, were hammered by worries over Chinese demand.

Oil bounced on short covering, after hitting its lowest in three months as the global spread of the coronavirus threatened to curb demand for fuel.

US crude regained 89 cents to $53.03 a barrel, while Brent crude futures rose 83 cents to $59.12.


Published on January 31, 2020

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