Asia Markets

Chinese stocks up more than 2%, rest of Asia mixed as investors assess coronavirus impact

Key Points
  • Asia Pacific markets traded mixed on Monday as investors continued to assess the potential economic fallout from the pneumonia-like coronavirus that's infected more than 70,000 people and killed over 1,700. 
  • Economists expect the People's Bank of China to step up its liquidity measures to ease funding conditions in Chinese money markets to combat downside risks posed by the infection.
  • Cabinet Office data in Japan revealed the Japanese economy shrunk at an annualized pace of 6.3% in the three months that ended in December.

Asia Pacific markets traded mixed on Monday as investors continued to assess the potential economic fallout from the pneumonia-like coronavirus that's infected more than 70,000 people and killed over 1,700.

Chinese shares on the mainland rose: The Shanghai composite rose 2.28% to 2,983.62, the Shenzhen composite was up 3.18% to 1,835.96 and the Shenzhen component added 2.98% to 11,241.50.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng index rose 0.58% in late afternoon trade.

In an effort to alleviate the shock of the virus outbreak on businesses, China is planning targeted tax cuts while increasing government spending, Finance Minister Liu Kun wrote Sunday in China's Communist Party magazine Qiushi.

The Ministry of Finance said Saturday it would provide 8 billion yuan in a second round of support for virus prevention and control efforts. As of Friday, all levels of finance ministries in China had allocated 90.15 billion yuan in support, according to the central government.

Economists expect the People's Bank of China to step up its liquidity measures to ease funding conditions in Chinese money markets to combat downside risks posed by the infection. "Admittedly, while lots of fluids is a recommendation for flu, money market liquidity infusions alone will not address China's woes from the coronavirus," Vishnu Varathan, head of economics and strategy for Asia at Mizuho Bank, wrote in a note.

"Nonetheless, ensuring ease of cash flow is a necessary condition to ensure otherwise viable businesses do not go belly up due to a seizure in liquidity," Varathan said, adding that he thought the PBOC would "more than offset upcoming liquidity drainage."

Read: Coronavirus live updates — China reports 105 additional deaths, 2,048 new cases

Elsewhere, Japanese shares fell, with the benchmark Nikkei 225 down 0.69% to 23,523.24 and the Topix index off by 0.89% to 1,687.77. Cabinet office data revealed the Japanese economy shrank at an annualized pace of 6.3% in the three months that ended in December. Analysts in a Reuters poll were predicting an annual decline of 3.7%. On-quarter, GDP fell 1.6%.

In Australia, the ASX 200 closed fractionally lower at 7,125.10, as the heavily weighted financial subindex declined 0.44%. South Korea's Kospi index declined 0.06% to 2,242.17. Singapore's Straits Times index was down 0.23% as of 3:48 p.m. HK/SIN, after the city-state downgraded its 2020 economic forecast. Singapore is grappling with one of the highest numbers of coronavirus cases outside China.

"The worrying human and economic toll of the COVID-19 outbreak is creating much uncertainty, especially as changes to the case tracking methods are making news difficult to interpret," John Bromhead from ANZ Research wrote in a morning note.

"Markets appear to be expecting a short-lived economic impact, but they are in "wait-and-see" mode," Bromhead said, explaining that although Chinese factories are slowly re-opening after being shut over an extended period of time after the Lunar New Year break, it will take time to clear the backlog of cargo at ports. Significant disruption is also ongoing, he added.

The virus, which was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan, is expected to have a significant economic impact on China as well as the global economy. Officials disclosed on Saturday that travel during the latest Lunar New Year period was a fraction of previous years amid increased travel restrictions aimed at containing the virus' spread.

People stayed home and took advantage of refund policies that authorities enacted — China's aviation authority said since it first announced a ticket refund policy in late January, domestic and foreign airlines have processed 20 million in tickets worth more than 20 billion yuan ($2.9 billion). The number of flights has been about a quarter of what it was last year, a representative said.

China's railway authority said rail trips during the holiday travel period so far has been one-seventh of the 280 million it had anticipated, and that it has processed 11.5 billion yuan ($1.6 billion) in ticket refunds.

Currencies and oil

In the currency market, the U.S. dollar traded at 99.131 against a basket of currencies, little changed from an earlier high of 99.151.

The Japanese yen, considered a safe-haven asset, changed hands at 109.85 per dollar while the Australian dollar was up 0.22% against the greenback at 0.6728.

Oil prices rose on Monday afternoon during Asian trading hours, reversing earlier losses. Global benchmark Brent declined fractionally to $57.32 a barrel while U.S. crude fell to $52.05.

CNBC's Evelyn Cheng contributed to this report.