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UPDATE 2-Japan warns against yen spike as investors seek safety on virus spread

Tetsushi Kajimoto

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* Spread of new virus outbreak prompts risk-aversion, boosts yen

* Policymakers fear rapid yen gains damage export-led growth

* Aso declines comment on whether to intervene in FX market

* Watching market with urgency as "nervous moves" seen - MOF official (Recasts with finmin comment)

TOKYO, March 9 (Reuters) - Japan's finance minister warned on Monday against investors pushing up the yen rapidly, saying the government will closely watch market moves which he described as "nervous" amid the global spread of the coronavirus.

Taro Aso made the comment at an ad-hoc news conference held after the yen jumped more than 3% to a day high of 101.58 per dollar, its highest in three years.

The benchmark Nikkei share index tumbled to 14-month lows on Monday, on rising fear that the spread of the coronovirus epidemic could severely damage the global economy.

"We must watch currency and stock market moves for a while. We'll examine them carefully," Aso told reporters.

Asked whether Japan needs to intervene in the currency market to stem the yen's strength, Aso declined to comment.

Aso's comment came after a senior finance ministry official stepped up warnings that the authorities would watch market moves with a "greater sense of urgency" amid the virus fears.

The spread of the epidemic has prompted heavy selling of riskier assets by investors and a scramble into assets such as the yen, which are perceived to be safer havens during times of financial distress.

Japanese policymakers tend to talk down gains in the currency, fearing that sharp appreciation hurts competitiveness of the country's goods overseas and further damage the export-led economy, which is teetering on the edge of recession.

"Nervous moves are seen" in the currency market, the official told reporters, after the yen broke through 104 per dollar.

The official added that he would consider whether to hold a meeting with officials from the Bank of Japan and the financial watchdog to discuss financial markets.

The number of people infected with the coronavirus topped 107,000 across the world and 3,600 people have died, as the outbreak caused more economic disruption.

Japan last intervened in foreign exchange markets in 2011 to stem yen gains in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster triggered by large earthquakes and a tsunami. Tokyo has stayed out of the market since then.

Japanese officials say they are sticking to an agreement of the Group of Seven and Group of 20 economies that excess volatility and disorderly market moves damage the economy, a tacit agreement they interpret as allowing action against sharp market swings. (Editing by Kim Coghill and Jacqueline Wong)