Risk assets slip on Chinese virus anxiety

New York, New York, United States of AmericaUpdated: Jan 22, 2020, 08:58 PM IST

Image for representation Photograph:(Reuters)

Story highlights

Investors worried about the threat of contagion as hundreds of millions travel for the Chinese Lunar New Year holidays.

Risk assets took a hit across the globe on Tuesday while the Japanese yen and U.S. Treasury prices gained as financial markets reacted to mounting concern about a new strain of the flu-like virus in China. The World Health Organization called a meeting for Wednesday to consider declaring a global health emergency while authorities in China confirmed the coronavirus could spread through human contact. The mayor of Wuhan, where the virus may have originated, confirmed a sixth virus-related death.

Investors are worried about the threat of contagion as hundreds of millions travel for the Chinese Lunar New Year holidays, which peak over the coming weekend. Traders recalled the fallout from a Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2002-2003 that killed about 800 people globally and which China initially covered up.

Emerging market stocks lost 1.58%. MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan closed 1.63% lower, while Japan's Nikkei lost 0.91%. Hong Kong, which suffered badly during the SARS outbreak, saw its index fall 2.8%. The overnight chill in Asia carried over to European markets. Shares of luxury goods makers - which have large exposure to China - were among those declining the most.

A U.S. index of airline stocks fell 2.3% and hotel and casino operators Las Vegas Sands Corp and Wynn Resorts Ltd, both of which have large operations in China, dropped over 4%. The virus outbreak "seems to be the biggest negative," said Scott Brown, chief economist at Raymond James in St. Petersburg, Florida. "We may see U.S. markets try to spit it out because it doesn't have that much of an impact on U.S. economy."

New York Stock Exchange
[ Traders work on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange (Courtesy: Reuters) ]

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 20.99 points, or 0.07%, to 29,327.11, the S&P 500 lost 1.13 points, or 0.03%, to 3,328.49 and the Nasdaq Composite added 1.12 points or 0.01%, to 9,390.06. The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index lost 0.16% and MSCI's gauge of stocks across the globe shed 0.29%.

In other markets, U.S.- and German 10-year government bond yields touched a two week low while the safe-haven yen strengthened 0.23% versus the dollar at 109.95.

"The fear is that it could be a SARS-type event, which was an economic issue," said Ellis Phifer, market strategist at Raymond James in Tennessee. "But this is all cautionary. The market is not panicking or anything."

Benchmark 10-year notes last rose 16/32 in price to yield 1.7795%, from 1.835% late on Friday. Monday was a U.S. market holiday. The dollar index fell 0.04%, with the euro down 0.04% to $1.109.Sterling was last trading at $1.3051, up 0.32% on the day. The Australian dollar dropped on the flu worries since the country attracts large numbers of Chinese tourists, who tend to be big spenders over the Lunar New Year holidays.

Some investors were relieved that U.S. President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron seemed to have struck a truce over a proposed digital tax. They agreed to hold off on a potential tariffs war until the end of the year, a French diplomatic source said.

A tariff war between China and the United States was blamed for the economic growth slowdown of last year. U.S. gold futures fell 0.22% to $1,555.40 an ounce. Oil prices were mixed on expectations that a well-supplied market would be able to absorb disruptions that have cut Libya's crude production to a trickle. U.S. crude rose 0.17% to $58.64 per barrel and Brent was last at $64.98, down 0.34% on the day.