Asian Stocks Mostly Lower Amid Pandemic Fears

Asian stocks finished broadly lower on Thursday as investors fretted about the coronavirus outbreak turning into a worldwide pandemic. The further spread of the coronavirus outside China raised concerns about the impact of supply and demand disruptions.

Chinese stocks bucked the weak regional trend to end tad higher as the country reported fewer deaths due to the coronavirus and the People's Bank of China said that it would ensure ample liquidity through targeted reserve requirement ratio (RRR) cuts in appropriate time to help achieve economic goals for this year.

The benchmark Shanghai Composite index inched up 0.11 percent to 2,991.33, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng index rose 0.31 percent to 26,778.62.

Japanese shares ended lower for a fourth straight session and the safe-haven yen strengthened amid worries about the rapid spread of the coronavirus infections in the United States and elsewhere.

The Nikkei average slumped 477.96 points, or 2.13 percent, to 21,948.23, closing below 22,000 for the first time since October. The broader Topix index closed 2.37 percent lower at 1,568.06.

Market heavyweight SoftBank tumbled 3.3 percent and Fast Retailing declined 2.4 percent. In the tech sector, Advantest dropped 2.6 percent and Tokyo Electron shed 2.2 percent.

Exporters finished broadly lower as the dollar fell against the yen. Both Sony and Panasonic plummeted around 4 percent. In the oil sector, Inpex and Japan Petroleum gave up 3-4 percent.

Australian markets fell for a fifth day on mounting worries over the global economic impact of a rapidly spreading coronavirus.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index gave up early gains to end the session down 50.20 points, or 0.75 percent at 6,657.90. The broader All Ordinaries index slid 53.30 points, or 0.78 percent, to 6,737.40.

The big four banks fell 1-2 percent. Bank of Queensland surged 4.4 percent after unveiling a five-year strategy and revising its guidance.

Energy stocks such as Beach Energy, Origin Energy, Oil Search, Santos and Woodside Petroleum lost 2-3 percent after oil prices hit their lowest in more than a year overnight on demand worries.

Lynas Corp rallied 5 percent after it received a much-needed three-year extension to its license to operate in Malaysia.

Embattled Retail Food Group jumped 5.4 percent as it reported a profit for the first half, it's first since 2017. Afterpay Touch Group, the buy now, pay later operator, rose 1.4 percent after declaring its first-half results.

On the data front, private capital expenditure in Australia was down a seasonally adjusted 2.8 percent sequentially in the fourth quarter of 2019, official data showed. That missed expectations for an increase of 0.5 percent following the 0.4 percent drop in the three months prior.

South Korea's Kospi average fell 21.88 points, or 1.05 percent, to 2,054.89 as the country reported another 334 new coronavirus cases, pushing its total to 1,595, the most in any country other than China.

The United States and South Korea postponed joint military drills today as the number of infections outside China, the source of the outbreak, for the first time surpassed those appearing in the country.

New Zealand shares ended a choppy session lower, extending losses for the fourth straight session. The benchmark NZX-50 index ended down 96.69 points, or 0.84 percent, at 11,437.17. Heavyweight a2Milk Co bucked the weak trend to rise as much as 4.7 percent after posting solid half-year profit growth.

If the coronavirus becomes a global pandemic and leads to a worldwide downturn or recession, it may be necessary to consider immediate fiscal stimulus to support the economy, finance minister Grant Robertson said in a speech in Auckland.

Official data showed today that New Zealand posted a merchandise trade deficit of NZ$340 million in January, beating expectations for a shortfall of NZ$549 million following the NZ$547 million surplus in December.

U.S. stocks fell for a fifth straight session overnight as several American and European companies warned the coronavirus outbreak would impact their supply lines and earnings.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average slid half a percent to a four-month closing low and the S&P 500 eased 0.4 percent to a nearly three-month closing low, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite edged up 0.2 percent.

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