Markets slide on fears of virus spread

24 February, 2020 12:00 AM printer

NEW YORK: More cases of the new coronavirus outside China along with warnings by major companies that their earnings could be hurt caused most stock markets to pull back on Friday.

“Coronavirus was back at the top of the agenda on Friday, with a rising number of new cases in China and South Korea putting the fear in investors,” remarked Spreadex analyst Connor Campbell, reports AFP.

More than 2,200 people have died from the disease in China, which has infected more than 75,000 people there and over 1,000 abroad, fueling concerns the epidemic will become a bigger problem for neighboring economies.

As a growing list of companies warned of an expected hit to their bottom lines, investors seemed unwilling to hold on to shares and moved into safe havens.

Wall Street tumbled for the second day, with the broad-based S&P 500 dropping 1.1 percent.

European markets struggled to benefit from upbeat manufacturing survey data, and closed with losses of around half a percent.

Two more people died in Iran while infections nearly doubled in South Korea and clusters surfaced in Chinese prisons, rekindling concerns about the outbreak.

“Because we just don’t know the full impact of the coronavirus yet, we’re going to continue to see a shadow of uncertainty over the market,” said Shawn Cruz of TD Ameritrade.

The economic impact “might come from both ends,” he told AFP.

“You might run out of suppliers because so many people get their supplies from China” and at the same time, there will be less buying “on the other side,” he said.

A batch of warnings from companies over the impact of the virus on their bottom lines—including Coca-Cola, Danish ship operator Maersk and Air France-KLM—and weaker Japanese manufacturing data also fanned anxiety.

Initial hopes that the virus would have only a short-term impact on earnings and economic growth have given way to the reluctant realization that it could linger longer and hit harder.

In Asia, the stock market in Seoul fell 1.5 percent as South Korea confirmed 48 more cases on Friday afternoon, adding to 52 announced earlier in the day, and taking the country’s total to 204.

Tokyo closed down 0.4 percent as investors took to the sidelines ahead of a long weekend.

On the upside, Shanghai rose by 0.3 percent following central bank efforts to cushion the virus’ impact on the world’s second-largest economy.

In commodity markets, crude oil prices fell as investors anticipated a drop in Chinese demand.

China is the world’s biggest importer and consumer of oil, and prices have been particularly sensitive to the epidemic, affecting dozens of countries and territories.

Demand for gold has grown as investors reduce their exposure to risk.

Gold jumped 1.6 percent to $1,645.90 an ounce, while the return on the 30-year US Treasury bond hit an all-time low of 1.9 percent.