25 Feb 2020

Stock markets tumble amid coronavirus fears

7:16 am on 25 February 2020

Global stock markets have sunk after a rise in coronavirus cases renewed fears about potential economic damage.

Traders work before the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on August 14, 2019 in New York City.

File photo. Photo: AFP

The three main indexes in the US have fallen by about 3 percent, while the UK's FTSE 100 share index closed 3.3 percent lower.

In Italy, which has seen Europe's worst outbreak of the virus, Milan's stock market plunged nearly 6 percent.

In contrast, the price of gold, which is considered less risky, hit its highest level in seven years.

Gold prices climbed more than 2 percent on Monday, hitting $US1,688 an ounce at one point - the highest level since January 2013.

The moves came as the outbreak continued to spread outside of China, with Iran, South Korea and Italy reporting a surge in cases.

About 77,000 people in China, where the virus emerged last year, have been infected and nearly 2,600 have died.

More than 1,200 cases have been confirmed in about 30 other countries and there have been more than 20 deaths. Italy reported three more deaths on Monday, raising the total there to six.

"There has been so much complacency in recent weeks from investors, despite clear signs that China's economy is facing a large hit and that supply chains around the world were being disrupted," said Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell.

"Markets initially wobbled in January, but had quickly bounced back, implying that investors didn't see the coronavirus as a serious threat to corporate earnings. They may now be reappraising the situation."

On the Dow Jones Industrial Average, firms such as Nike, Apple and Walt Disney, which do major business in China and rely on it to make goods, were some of the hardest hit, with shares down more than 3.5 percent.

Travel firms also continued to suffer. In the UK, the biggest fall in the FTSE 100 was EasyJet, which sank 15 percent, while Tui and British Airways owner IAG were both down by more than 8 percent.

Supply fears

The market moves come as companies continue to warn about the effect of the coronavirus on their supply chains and overall financial health.

Associated British Foods, which owns clothing retailer Primark, warned on Monday that there could be shortages of some lines if delays in factory production in China were prolonged because of virus-related shutdowns.

In China itself, officials have said most small businesses have yet to reopen after the authorities extended the Lunar New Year holiday in an effort to contain the spread of the virus.

Only about three out of 10 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) were back to work, while transport problems were preventing workers from travelling and disrupting shipments of raw materials, said industry ministry spokesman Tian Yulong.

SMEs make up about 60 percent of the Chinese economy.

Analysts said the gold price - which has risen by more than 10 percent since the start of the year - could breach the $US1,700 barrier soon.

"Gold has finally established some serious momentum," said Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at online trading platform Oanda.

Oil prices fell by more than 4 percent on Monday, as investors worried about a fall in demand following the temporary factory closures due to the virus.

The price of Brent crude dropped by more than $US2 to $US56.18 a barrel.


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