Markets catch a cold as virus fears infect stock exchanges

THE Nikkei Index for the Tokyo Stock Exchange has taken a tumble over fears at the spread of coronavirus.

The 4.5 percent slump — which rallied soon after to 3.3 percent — mirrored falls in market values in the US and Europe. Wall Street this week showed its worst daily declines since 2018, and the Dow Jones fell 3.5 percent.

In other Asian markets, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index was slightly up, as was South Korea’s Kospi. Korean Air shares rose 1.58 percent despite a member of the airline’s cabin crew testing positive for coronavirus, Reuters reported.

In Japan, Toyota Motor Corporation shares fell 3.7 percent, and Fast Retailing took a 4.2 percent hit. Potential disruption to the supply chain was cited as a cause of the market jitters. Contagion and resulting factory shut-downs are seen as more of a problem than the virus itself, which is seldom fatal in healthy adults.

In China, the Shenzhen composite regained 0.5 percent after a 0.6 percent fall. Major currencies remained steady, but gold was down 0.6 percent to just below $1,650.

With the spread of the virus expected to peak in the first quarter of this year, economic activity may rebound in the second — but fears of a global economic slowdown remain in some quarters.

A recession is unlikely, say experts, as some central banks have cut interest rates in recent months. More are expected to follow suit, despite assurances they wouldn’t.