Stocks retreat, oil slides as China struggles with virus

More than 570 people have been infected with the new coronavirus across China (AFP Photo/HECTOR RETAMAL)

Global markets slid Thursday on investor nervousness surrounding the spread of a deadly new virus from China as authorities strove to contain the disease.

"Traders are cutting their exposure to stocks for fear the health crisis will spread," said David Madden, market analyst at CMC Markets UK as Asia, Europe and Wasll Street all lost ground.

China on Thursday locked down two major cities in a province at the centre of a deadly virus outbreak, banning planes and trains from leaving in an unprecedented move aimed at containing the disease that has spread to other countries.

The respiratory virus has claimed 17 lives since emerging from a seafood and animal market in Wuhan, infected hundreds of other people nationwide and been detected as far away as the United States.

Shanghai's stock market tumbled 2.8 percent in the final day of trading before a week-long market holiday for the Lunar New Year, when hundreds of millions of people travel across China -- raising fears of the contagion spreading further.

It was the biggest pre-Lunar New Year fall on record for the bourse.

Hong Kong lost 1.5 percent and Tokyo 1.0 percent.

In Europe, London's benchmark FTSE, Frankfurt's DAX 30 and the Paris CAC-40 were all off around half of one percent less than two hours from the close while Wall Street was also off 0.5 percent in early trading having finished flat Wednesday.

Senior OANDA analyst Edward Moya observed that "US stocks are losing momentum in what has been a very good start to earnings season as Asia braces for the impact of the coronavirus."

The virus has caused alarm because of its similarity to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed hundreds of people in 2002-2003.

"China's importance in the overall global supply chain and the fact they are a huge export market for many countries... opens up a more unfavourable global outcome this time around," Stephen Innes, chief market strategist of AxiCorp, said in a client note.

Oil prices were hit hard, shedding around 1.5 percent.

"Given the importance of China for oil demand and having the outbreak falling on the cusp of peak domestic travel season, the timing is particularly damaging," Innes said.

Moya concurred, saying that "oil prices are getting battered by falling demand concerns that have stemmed from growing travel bans in China."

As markets chased hints on the European Central Bank's strategic review and an updated assessment of risks facing the eurozone economy, ECB president Christine Lagarde insisted climate change would be central to a rethink of the institution's goals and methods.

Lagarde also looked ahead to European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen's mission at US-EU trade talks in Washington next month, indicating that "the tone and the determination on both sides to draw positive conclusions... I think is to be taken as a positive signal."

As expected, ECB governors left interest rates at historic lows and maintained "quantitative easing" (QE) bond-buying purchases at Thursday's meeting.

- Key figures around 1650 GMT -

London - FTSE 100: DOWN 0.9 percent at 7,507.67 points (close)

Frankfurt - DAX 30: DOWN 1.0 percent at 13,388.42 (close)

Paris - CAC 40: DOWN 0.7 percent at 5,971.79 (close)

New York - DOW: DOWN 0.6 percent at 29,008.69

EURO STOXX 50: DOWN 0.9 percent at 3,736.85

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: DOWN 1.0 percent at 23,795.44 (close)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng: DOWN 1.5 percent at 27,909.12 (close)

Shanghai - Composite: DOWN 2.8 percent at 2,976.53 (close)

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.1068 from $1.1093 at 2200 GMT

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.3107 from $1.3142

Euro/pound: DOWN at 84.39 pence from 84.41 pence

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 109.40 yen from 109.84 yen

Brent Crude: DOWN 1.9 percent at $62.04 per barrel

West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 2.0 percent at $55.61 per barrel