Stocks crumble as deadly coronavirus spreads, safe havens in demand


SYDNEY (Reuters) – Asian stocks extended a global selloff on Tuesday as China took more drastic steps to combat the coronavirus, while bonds found favor on expectations central banks would need to keep stimulus flowing to offset the likely economic drag.

FILE PHOTO: A decoration for celebrating new year is seen next to a stock index board outside a brokerage in Tokyo, Japan, January 6, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

As the death toll reached 100 and the virus spread to more than 10 countries, including France, Japan and the United States, some health experts questioned whether China can contain the epidemic.

China has already extended the Lunar New Year holiday to Feb. 2 nationally, and to Feb. 9 for Shanghai. On Tuesday, the country’s largest steelmaking city in northern Hebei province, Tangshan, suspended all public transit in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus.

With Chinese markets shut investors were selling the offshore yuan CNH= and the Australian dollar AUD=D3 as a proxy for risk.

“The wildcard is not the fatality rate, but how infectious the Wuhan virus is,” Citi economists wrote in a note.

“The economic impact will depend on how successfully this outbreak is contained.”

Analysts said travel and tourism would be the hardest-hit sectors together with retail and liquor sales though healthcare and online shopping were seen as likely outperformers.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS slipped 0.8% in early Asian trading on Tuesday. Japan’s Nikkei .N225 was 0.7% down, Australian shares stumbled 1.3% and South Korea’s Kospi index .KS11 skidded 2.6%.

On Monday, key indexes for British, French and German equity markets slid more than 2%, as did pan-European markets on worries about the potential economic impact from the deadly virus. Stocks on Wall Street fell more than 1%.

E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 ESc1 reversed some of the losses after slumping 1.6% overnight for their biggest single day percentage loss since last October. They were last up 0.25%.

Analysts at JPMorgan said the coronavirus outbreak was an “unexpected risk factor” for markets though they see the contagion as a regional rather than a global shock.

“The rise in risk aversion and worry of a region-wide demand shock … means the knee-jerk market reaction will likely be to richen low-yielding government bonds,” JPMorgan analysts wrote in a note.

“Concerns about coronavirus contagion has driven yields lower and is the latest risk of a series that have driven U.S. Treasury (UST) yields far below what fundamentals indicate. We remain short 30-year UST.”

Treasury 10-year note yields US10YT=RR dived as deep as 1.598% on Monday, the lowest since Oct. 10. Yields on two-year paper US2YT=RR also fell sharply while Fed fund futures <0#FF:> rallied as investors priced in more risk of a rate cut later this year.

Futures imply around 35 basis points of easing by year end FEDWATCH. The Federal Reserve is widely expected to stand pat at its policy meeting this week, but markets will be sensitive to any changes to its economic outlook.

Australian and New Zealand bonds gained on Tuesday as did Japanese government bonds (JGB) with yields on 10-year JGBs set for their fourth straight day of losses.JP10YT=RR

JPMorgan said they have not yet altered their developed or emerging markets forex forecasts though they were taking profits on their “bullish” EUR/USD positions and remain “considerably long” on Swiss francs which benefits from safe-haven demand.

Short build-up in the Aussie was another risk hedge. The currency was last down 0.1% at $0.6752, on track for its third straight day of losses.

The euro EUR= was steady at $1.1017.

The yen JPY=, which has been rising for the past five sessions, paused at 108.94 per dollar.

In commodities, Brent crude LCOc1 was off 15 cents at $59.17 while U.S. crude CLc1 eased 12 cents to $53.02.

Spot gold XAU= was flat at $1,581.11.

Graphic: Asian stock markets here

Reporting by Swati Pandey and Wayne Cole; Editing by Stephen Coates & Shri Navaratnam

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