Asia Markets

Chinese stocks slip as new coronavirus cases in Hubei spike

Key Points
  • Stocks in major Asian markets declined on Thursday.
  • The moves regionally came as China's Hubei province on Thursday reported a spike in the number of new coronavirus cases.

Stocks in major Asian markets declined on Thursday as investors weighed a spike in the number of new coronavirus cases reported in China's Hubei province due to a tweak in methodology.

Mainland Chinese stocks reversed earlier gains and ended their trading day lower, with the Shanghai composite down 0.71% to about 2,906.07 and the Shenzhen component declining 0.7% to 10,864.32 while the Shenzhen composite fell 0.769% to around 1,771.61. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index was 0.29% lower, as of its final hour of trading.

China's Hubei province on Thursday reported a spike in the number of new coronavirus cases. It said it started to include "clinically diagnosed" cases in its tally.

"I think the market's got to grapple with this ... new method ... of calculating cases," Chris Watling, CEO of Longview Economics, told CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Thursday.

"I suspect they might look straight through it once they work out that it doesn't sound like it's more cases, it's just a change in methodology," Watling said.

In Japan, the Nikkei 225 fell 0.14% to close at 23,827.73 while the Topix index finished its trading day 0.34% lower at 1,713.08. Shares of conglomerate Softbank Group declined after Wednesday's blockbuster surge, falling 5.09% on the day, with the moves on Thursday coming after the firm posted a near wipe out of its quarterly profit.

Meanwhile, South Korea's Kospi slipped 0.24% to finish its trading day at 2,232.96 as shares of automaker Hyundai Motor dropped 2.21%. Stocks in Australia closed in positive territory, with the S&P/ASX 200 up 0.21% to 7,103.20.

Overall, the MSCI Asia ex-Japan index was 0.17% lower.

Market sentiment had been been positive earlier in the week as the data had been showing an apparent slowdown in the pace of new reported cases, with policymakers in China having announced a series of measures to combat the expected economic slowdown from the virus outbreak.

On the corporate earnings front, firms such as Japan's Nissan Motors and Chinese tech behemoth Alibaba were expected to announce their quarterly financial results on Thursday. Ahead of those releases, Nissan's stock in Japan was down 1.54% by the close while Hong Kong-listed shares of Alibaba were up more than 0.6% as of their final hour of trading.

Singapore's DBS on Thursday morning announced a 14% jump in its net profit for the fourth quarter as compared to a year ago. Shares of the lender were up 0.16% in afternoon trade.

Currencies and oil

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was last at 98.995 after an earlier low of 98.980.

The Japanese yen, often seen as a safe-haven currency in times of economic uncertainty, traded at 109.79 per dollar following an earlier low of 110.09. The Australian dollar changed hands at $0.6716 after touching an earlier high of $0.6738.

The offshore Chinese yuan weakened against the greenback, last trading at 6.9836 per dollar, while its onshore counterpart was at 6.9822 per dollar.

Oil prices were lower in the afternoon of Asian trading hours, with international benchmark Brent crude futures slipping 0.25% to $55.65 per barrel. U.S. crude futures were fractionally lower at $51.15 per barrel.

— CNBC's Fred Imbert contributed to this report.