Picture: 123RF/POP NUKOONRAT
Picture: 123RF/POP NUKOONRAT

London — Global shares took a beating on Tuesday, wiping out all gains made at the start of the week as mounting concerns about a new strain of coronavirus in China sent a ripple of risk aversion through markets.

Authorities in China confirmed that a new virus could be spread through human contact, reporting 15 medical staff had been infected and a fourth person had died.

Safe-haven bonds and the yen gained as investors were reminded of the economic damage done by the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus in 2002/2003, particularly given the threat of contagion as hundreds of millions travel for the Lunar New Year holidays.

“I’m not an expert in the pandemics, but you can look at previous examples, such as the SARS outbreak which also originated from Asia,” said Cristian Maggio, head of emerging-markets strategy at TD Securities in London. Noting that China had initially downplayed the full extent of the SARS outbreak, he said “I think the market might be fearing something similar.”

The mood swing saw MSCI’s all-country world index slip 0.4%, wiping out gains made at the start of the week on Monday. Asian markets were hit particularly hard.

Hong Kong, which suffered badly during the SARS outbreak, saw its index fall 2.8%. Japan’s Nikkei lost 0.9% and Shanghai blue chips 1.7%, with airlines under pressure. The caution spread to E-mini futures for the S&P 500, which eased 0.5%.

The chill in Asia carried over to European markets, where shares of luxury goods makers — which have large exposure to China — were among the biggest fallers.

Germany’s 10-year government bond yield touched one-week lows.

Investors had already been guarded after the International Monetary Fund (IMF) trimmed its global growth forecasts, mostly due to a surprisingly sharp slowdown in India and other emerging markets.

There had been some relief as US President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron seemed to have struck a truce over a proposed digital tax. The two agreed to hold off on a potential tariffs war until the end of the year, a French diplomatic source said.

Trump is due to deliver a speech at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos later on Tuesday, and trade and tariffs could be on the agenda. In a tweet late on Monday, Trump said he would be bringing “additional Hundreds of Billions of Dollars back to the US of America! We are now NUMBER ONE in the Universe, by FAR!!”.

All steady at Bank of Japan

The Bank of Japan (BOJ) cited lessened trade risks when nudging up forecasts for economic growth after holding a policy meeting on Tuesday. As widely expected, the BOJ maintained its short-term interest rate target at -0.1% and a pledge to guide 10-year government bond yields around 0%, by a 7-2 vote.

The yen picked up a bid on the safe-haven move and the dollar dipped to ¥109.93 from an early ¥110.17. It also gained on the euro, leaving the single currency lower to the dollar at $1.1090.

Against a basket of currencies, the dollar was steady at 97.638, just off a four-week high of 97.729. 

The Australian dollar took a knock from the flu worries since it attracts large numbers of Chinese tourists, who tend to be big spenders over the Lunar New Year holidays. Australia said it would step up screening of some flights from Wuhan. The outbreak was particularly badly timed as the tourism industry has been mauled already by bushfires sweeping the country.

Spot gold hit a two-week high of $1,568.35 an ounce, but traded 0.2% lower in early deals in London.

Oil prices slid nearly 1%, having earlier gained on the risk of supply disruption in Libya. Brent crude futures fell 1% to $64.60 a barrel, while US crude fell 0.92% to $58.09 a barrel.

Reuters