Asia Markets

Hong Kong stocks drop almost 3% on return from Lunar New Year holiday amid coronavirus fears

Key Points
  • Shares in Hong Kong plummeted on Wednesday as the city's markets returned from a holiday amid coronavirus fears.
  • Investors continued to weigh concerns over the ongoing virus outbreak that has left more than 100 dead in China.
  • Shares of Apple suppliers were mixed on Wednesday after Apple CEO Tim Cook said Tuesday that the Cupertino-based tech giant's operations in China are being impacted by the ongoing coronavirus outbreak in the country.
  • Apple reported earnings and iPhone sales that smashed expectations.

Shares in Hong Kong plummeted on Wednesday as the city's markets returned from a holiday amid coronavirus fears.

The Hang Seng index declined 2.82% to close at 27,160.63.

Hong Kong-listed shares of travel-related firms plummeted. China Eastern Airlines plunged 3.43% and China Southern Airlines dropped 3.65%. Insurance stocks also took a hit, with life insurer AIA declining 2.65% and Hong Kong-listed shares of China Life Insurance falling 3.59%. Meanwhile, gaming stocks dropped as Wynn Macau dove 4.11% and Melco International Development fell 5.18%.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Saturday declared a virus emergency in the city of 7.3 million, extending school cancellations until Feb. 17 and canceling all official visits to mainland China. The ongoing virus outbreak has killed more than 100 in China, according to Chinese health officials. The number of infected in China has also now surpassed that of SARS.

Lam announced a package of measures aimed at limiting the Asian financial hub's connections to mainland China. Flights and high speed train journeys between Hong Kong and the Chinese city of Wuhan will be halted, and annual official Lunar New Year celebrations for the city have been scrapped.

Markets in China remain closed on Wednesday for a holiday.

In other Asian markets, Japan's Nikkei 225 was up 0.71% to close at 23,379.40 while the Topix index gained 0.45% to end its trading day at 1,699.95. South Korea's Kospi also added 0.39% to close at 2,185.28.

Stocks in Australia rose, with the S&P/ASX 200 closing 0.53% higher at 7,031.50.

Overall, the MSCI Asia ex-Japan index was 0.6% lower.

Apple suppliers mixed

Shares of Apple suppliers were mixed on Wednesday after Apple CEO Tim Cook said Tuesday that the Cupertino-based tech giant's operations in China are being impacted by the ongoing coronavirus outbreak in the country.

Japan's Murata Manufacturing declined 0.58% while Sharp added 0.13%. Over in South Korea, LG Display gained 1.37%. In Hong Kong, Sunny Optical slipped 1.77% while AAC Technologies dropped 4.16%.

"It's too early to tell how big and how significant this could be but ... you can't ignore something like this especially in an area for growth for Apple," Bradley Gastwirth, chief technology strategist at Wedbush Securities, told CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Wednesday.

"All that being said, the company did still guide better than consensus, the thing that was interesting which Tim Cook noted was they had a larger range for the revenue guide based on the coronavirus because of that uncertainty," Gastwirth said.

The moves in Asia came after the Apple CEO said the firm has restricted employee travel and shut one store in China due to the coronavirus outbreak, also adding that the company is cutting back on retail store hours in China. That came as Apple reported earnings and iPhone sales that smashed expectations.

Overnight stateside, the Dow Jones Industrial Average surged 187.05 points to close at 28,722.85. The S&P 500 advanced 1% to end its trading day at 3,276.24. The Nasdaq Composite advanced 1.4% to close at 9,269.68.

Amid the coronavirus fears, the White House told airlines that it may suspend all flights from China to the U.S., according to people familiar with the matter.

"Even if this strain of Coronavirus may be deemed less potent than SARS, there is no excuse for complacency given risks that proliferation is likely amplified by far more extensive travel in and out of China compared to (the) SARS period," Vishnu Varathan, head of economics and strategy at Mizuho Bank, wrote in a Wednesday note.

"In all likelihood, rising infection and casualty count into the day and over the next few days and weeks will strain some of the relief moves we have seen overnight," the economist said.

Currencies and oil

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was at 98.067 after seeing an earlier low of 97.943.

The Japanese yen traded at 109.09 per dollar after seeing an earlier low of 109.26. The Australian dollar changed hands at $0.6757 after rising from levels around $0.674 yesterday.

Oil prices rose in the afternoon of Asian trading hours, with international benchmark Brent crude futures up 0.81% to $59.99 per barrel. U.S. crude futures gained 0.86% to $53.94 per barrel.

— CNBC's William Feuer contributed to this report.