Asia Markets

Hong Kong stocks tumble more than 2.5% as coronavirus death toll in China continues to rise

Key Points
  • Hong Kong's Hang Seng index fell 2.62% to close at 26,449.13, with other Asian markets also seeing declines.
  • Investors continued to watch for developments on the ongoing coronavirus outbreak that has already taken 170 lives and infected 7,700 in China, according to the latest update by China's National Health Commission.
  • The Federal Open Market Committee held the overnight benchmark rate in a range between 1.5% and 1.75%, as expected.

Stocks in Asia fell on Thursday as the U.S. Federal Reserve kept interest rates on hold and investors continued to watch for developments on the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng index fell 2.62% to close at 26,449.13.

Hong Kong-listed shares of travel-related firms declined, as China Southern Airlines fell 3.34% and Cathay Pacific slipped 2.13%. Gaming companies also plunged as Wynn Macau dropped 5.21% and Melco International Development fell 5.35%.

In Taiwan, where markets returned to trade from the holidays, the Taiex plunged 5.75% to close at 11,421.74 as shares of manufacturing giant and major Apple supplier Hon Hai Precision Industry, also known as Foxconn, dropped 9.97%.

Elsewhere, the Nikkei 225 in Japan slipped 1.72% to close at 22,977.75 while the Topix index declined 1.48% to end its trading day at 1,674.77.

In South Korea, the Kospi closed 1.71% lower at 2,148.00. Shares of Samsung Electronics fell 3.21% after the industry heavyweight posted a fourth quarter operating profit drop of about 34% as compared to the same period a year ago.

Meanwhile, stocks in Australia slipped as the S&P/ASX 200 shed 0.33% to close at 7,008.40.

Overall, the MSCI Asia ex-Japan index was 2.17% lower.

Markets in China remained closed on Thursday for a holiday.

Investors continued to watch for developments on the ongoing coronavirus outbreak that has already taken 170 lives and infected more than 7,700 in China, according to the latest update by China's National Health Commission.

"A lot of people have already moved into the very defensive areas that they can do," Andrew Sullivan, director at Pearl Bridge Partners, told CNBC's "Street Signs" on Thursday. "I think longer-term wise, we know the markets are going to recover, but nobody wants to ... start jumping in until there's some certainty there."

Overnight stateside, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed 11.6 points higher at 28,734.45 while the S&P 500 declined less than 0.1% to 3,273.40. The Nasdaq Composite also shed less than 0.1% to 9,275.16.

The Federal Open Market Committee held the overnight benchmark rate in a range between 1.5% and 1.75%, as expected. In a statement, the committee said the direction of rate policy is predicated on whether inflation can return to its 2% objective, adding that the labor market remains "strong" while the economy is growing at a "moderate rate."

Commenting on the coronavirus outbreak, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said the central bank is closely monitoring the situation.

"There is likely to be some disruption to activity in China and possibly globally based on the spread of the virus to date and the travel restrictions and business closures that have already been imposed," Powell told reporters at a press conference, though he acknowledged that it's too early to speculate on the potential economic impact globally.

Currencies and oil

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was last at 98.061 after seeing an earlier low of 97.995.

The Japanese yen traded at 108.86 per dollar after seeing levels above 109.2 yesterday. The Australian dollar changed hands at $0.6731 after declining from levels above $0.676 yesterday.

Oil prices were lower in the afternoon of Asian trading hours, with international benchmark Brent crude futures down 1.76% to $58.76 per barrel. The U.S. crude futures contract also shed 1.73% to $52.41 per barrel.

— CNBC's Fred Imbert and Maggie Fitzgerald contributed to this report.

Correction: This article was updated to reflect that the ongoing coronavirus outbreak in China has already taken 170 lives and infected more than 7,700 in the country so far.