Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on February 7 2020 in New York City, the US. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/AFP/SPENCER PLATT
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on February 7 2020 in New York City, the US. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/AFP/SPENCER PLATT

London — Global shares fell on Monday as the death toll from a coronavirus outbreak exceeded the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic of two decades ago, though Chinese shares rose as authorities lifted some work and travel curbs, helping businesses to resume operations.

The dollar took a breather, trading flat against a basket of peers after gaining more than 1% last week. The greenback gained as a strong US employment report stood in contrast to both the expected economic hit to China from the virus and weakness in the eurozone from weak German industrial numbers in December.

European shares edged lower as fears over the coronavirus’s economic impact still weighed on sentiment. The pan-European Stoxx 600 index fell 0.3% in early deals, with the travel and leisure sector the biggest decliner.

Ireland’s main index fell as much as 1.2%, dragged down by banks after Irish nationalists Sinn Fein secured almost a quarter of first-preference votes in a general election.

MSCI’s all country world index, which tracks shares across 47 countries, was down 0.2%.

Shares in Asia registered a mixed performance.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan reversed some of its early losses but was still down 0.4%. Japan’s Nikkei was off 0.6%, South Korea’s Kopsi was 0.5% weaker while Australia’s benchmark index eased a shade.

China’s indices were the only ones in the black in Asia with the blue-chip index adding 0.5% and Shanghai’s SSE composite up 0.3%.

More than 900 people have so far died mainly in China’s central Hubei province as of Sunday with most of the new deaths in the provincial capital of Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak.

To contain the spread, China’s government had ordered lockdowns, cancelled flights and shut schools in many cities. But on Monday, workers began trickling back to offices and factories though a large number of workplaces remain closed and many white-collar workers will continue to work from home.

“Despite the ongoing uncertainty, we continue to filter out the short-term noise and remain overweight emerging market equities,” said Mark Haefele, chief investment officer at UBS Global Wealth Management in a note to clients.

“While we continue to monitor the risks to our position, we are optimistic that the decisive actions taken by governments will bring the outbreak under control.”

The outbreak has killed more people than the SARS epidemic did globally in 2002/2003. The virus has also spread to at least 27 countries and territories, infecting more than 330 people overseas.

At the weekend, an American hospitalised in the central city of Wuhan became the first confirmed non-Chinese victim of the virus. A Japanese man who also died there was another suspected victim.

Monday’s losses in Asia extended from Wall Street on Friday where the Dow fell 0.9%, the S&P 500 declined 0.5% while the Nasdaq lost 0.5%.

US stock futures were positive on Monday, however.

Stock markets have recovered some ground since the initial news of the outbreak affected markets, as the rate of increase of reported cases appears to slow.

“Whether the coronavirus-related relief is lasting depends on whether this epidemic can ultimately be contained. The new global infections numbers hint at some stabilisation suggesting that the speed of the spreading of this virus has come down,” said Martin Wolburg, senior economist at Generali Investments in a note to clients.

“The data imply that the spreading of the epidemic could stall by the end of February. Therefore, we view last week’s equity market improvement as backed by fundamentals and continue to see the epidemic as a buying opportunity.”

Also helping markets has been stimulus from China's central bank, which has taken a raft of measures to support the economy, including reducing interest rates and flushing the market with liquidity. From Monday, it will provide special funds for banks to re-lend to businesses working to combat the virus.

Despite the measures, analysts expect the world economy to take a hit from an expected slowdown in China.

“For now, our best guess is that the economic disruption related to the coronavirus will cost the world economy over $280bn in the first quarter of this year,” Capital Economics said in a note on Friday.

“If we’re right, then this will mean that global [economic output] will not grow in quarter-on-quarter terms for the first time since 2009.”

Elsewhere, in currencies, the euro staged a halfhearted bounce from four-month lows to be last at $1.0950.

In commodities, Brent crude futures eased 0.5% to $54.22 a barrel while US crude futures fell 0.7% to $49.97 a barrel.

Since January 17, oil prices have fallen by 14% while copper is down about 10%.

Spot gold gained 0.3% to trade at $1,574/oz.

Reuters