Asia Markets

Stocks in Asia edge higher as investors continue to weigh impact of coronavirus

Key Points
  • Stocks in major Asian markets edged higher on Friday.
  • The moves came as investors continue to watch the situation surrounding a fast-spreading coronavirus that was first diagnosed less than a month ago.
  • Major markets across the region such as China and South Korea were closed on Friday ahead of the Lunar New Year that starts on Saturday.

Stocks in major Asian markets edged higher on Friday as the number of coronavirus cases in mainland China rose to more than 800, with the death toll increasing to 25.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng index recovered from an earlier slip, rising 0.15% to close early at 27,949.64.

The Nikkei 225 in Japan closed 0.13% higher at 23,827.18 while the Topix index finished its trading session flat at 1,730.44.

Meanwhile, shares in Australia rose slightly, as the S&P/ASX 200 closed fractionally higher at 7,090.50.

Overall, the MSCI Asia ex-Japan index was 0.13% higher.

The moves came as investors continued to watch the situation surrounding a fast-spreading coronavirus that was first diagnosed less than a month ago. The total number of coronavirus cases in China jumped to 830, Chinese state media reported on Friday. There are at least 14 known cases outside mainland China, bringing the cases worldwide to 844.

Major markets across the region such as China and South Korea were closed on Friday ahead of the Lunar New Year that starts on Saturday.

"As Chinese across the world usher in the 'Year of Rat', fears of contagion of the coronavirus have caused domestic Chinese and global markets in general to become jittery," Venkateswaran Lavanya, an economist at Mizuho Bank, wrote in a Friday note. "So far, the 25 lives claimed and some 830 cases of infection is a source of worry; but panic is premature as evolving impact of the coronavirus remains to be seen."

"The Chinese government is a lot more transparent this time and providing much more timely updates but at the same time we also feel that the virus situation is still at it's initial stage," Becky Liu, head of China macro strategy at Standard Chartered Bank, told CNBC's "Street Signs" on Friday. "It remain(s) difficult to tell … how bad the situation would be."

The coronavirus epidemic in China has brought back memories of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2002 and 2003, which killed about 800 people.

"Compared with SARS … we do feel that this round of the situation is likely to be better, but the transparency would also likely to bring a bit more panic to the market in the foreseeable future," Liu said.

Currencies and oil

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was last at 97.733 after seeing lows below 97.6 yesterday.

The Japanese yen, often seen as a safe-haven currency in times of economic uncertainty, traded at 109.54 per dollar after strengthening sharply from levels above 110 seen earlier in the trading week.

The Australian dollar was at $0.6845 after seeing highs above $0.687 yesterday.

Oil prices rose in the afternoon of Asian trading hours, with international benchmark Brent crude futures 0.35% higher at $62.26 per barrel. U.S. crude futures rose 0.36% to $55.79 per barrel.

— CNBC's Berkeley Lovelace Jr. and Dawn Kopecki contributed to this report.