Asia Markets

Mainland Chinese stocks drop as much as 3.5% as coronavirus fears grip investors

Key Points
  • Stocks in China led losses among major Asian markets on Thursday.
  • Investor sentiment has taken a hit this week as the coronavirus that has infected hundreds in China spreads.
  • Beginning Thursday morning Beijing time, all public transportation was suspended in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the outbreak is believed to have started.

Stocks in mainland China dropped on Thursday, leading losses among major markets regionally as the death toll rises in China due to a pneumonia-causing virus outbreak.

The Shanghai composite fell 2.75% on the day to around 2,976.53 while the Shenzhen component dropped 3.52% to close at 10,681.90. The Shenzhen composite also declined 3.451% to end its trading day at approximately 1,756.82.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng index also fell 1.89%, as of its final hour of trading.

Elsewhere, the Nikkei 225 in Japan slipped 0.98% to close at 23,795.44 while the Topix index also shed 0.78% to end its trading day at 1,730.50.

Japanese trade data released Thursday showed exports falling more than expected in December. Japanese exports for December fell 6.3% in December as compared to a year before, data from country's Ministry of Finance data showed. That was far lower than expectations of a 4.2% decrease expected by economists in a Reuters poll.

South Korea's Kospi also saw losses as it declined 0.93% to close at 2,246.13.

Meanwhile, shares in Australia declined on the day, with the S&P/ASX 200 falling 0.63% to 7,088.

Data on Thursday showed that jobs growth smashed expectations. On a seasonally adjusted basis, 28,900 jobs were created in Australia in December, according to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. That was far above expectations of a 15,000 increase from a Reuters poll.

The Australian dollar changed hands at $0.6869 after seeing an earlier low of $0.6836.

Overall, the MSCI Asia ex-Japan index fell 1.02%.

Coronavirus concerns

Investor sentiment has taken a hit this week as the mysterious coronavirus that has infected hundreds in China spreads. The World Health Organization postponed a decision Wednesday over whether to declare the disease a global health emergency. Beginning Thursday morning Beijing time, all public transportation was suspended in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the outbreak is believed to have started.

One strategist told CNBC on Thursday that the situation at present was "very much wait and see."

"Wait till after Chinese New Year," David Roche, president & global strategist at Independent Strategy, told CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Thursday, adding that "a much clearer idea on mortality" is likely to be present by then. "After Chinese New Year, we will know the degree, the speed and ... the breadth ... of infections ... by this virus."

The Lunar New Year period is set to kick off on Saturday, with hundreds of millions of Chinese citizens expected to travel domestically or abroad during the period.

Currencies and oil

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was last at 97.526 after seeing earlier lows below 97.5.

The Japanese yen traded at 109.58 per dollar after strengthening from levels above 110 yesterday.

Amid concerns over the coronavirus outbreak both the onshore and offshore Chinese yuan continued to see weakness, with each trading at 6.9277 against the dollar.

Oil prices continued to remain in negative territory in the afternoon of Asian trading hours. International benchmark Brent crude futures fell 1.41% to $62.32 per barrel, while U.S. crude futures declined 1.67% to $55.79 per barrel.