Stock markets mostly rise, as airlines act over virus

Investors are increasingly worried about the economic impact of the coronavirus, which has now killed at least 132 people and infected more people in China than SARS (AFP Photo/Anthony WALLACE)

European and US stock markets posted additional gains Wednesday, as positive Apple earnings and US data offset concerns over the spreading coronavirus that has led more airlines to suspend flights to China.

Hong Kong's main stocks index slumped 2.8 percent by the close as traders returning from the Lunar New Year break played catch-up with the global selloff triggered by the epidemic.

But European markets ended the day on a positive note and the Dow index was 0.5 percent higher in midday New York exchanges.

The dollar was mixed against other major currencies, and oil prices were choppy as well.

"Risk sentiment is being given some reprieve from concerns over the novel coronavirus outbreak," said Han Tan, market analyst at FXTM.

"The positive surprise in Apple's latest earnings overnight and Tuesday's better-than-expected US consumer confidence reading... served as distractions from the coronavirus gloom that has beset investors."

Apple on Tuesday posted record results for the final three months of last year, owing to gains in iPhone sales.

"Investors continue to keep a nervous eye on China, but it looks like the beat on earnings from the tech giant has helped yesterday's optimism to persist into a new session," said Chris Beauchamp, chief market analyst at the online trading group IG.

But striking a sombre tone during an earnings call, Apple chief executive Tim Cook said the company is closely watching the viral outbreak hitting China, where Apple has customers, partners, suppliers and employees.

The outbreak could deal a heavy blow to China's already-fragile economy, coming during the Lunar New Year holidays when millions criss-cross the country and spend lots of money.

A number of airlines have decided to temporarily halt or reduce flights to China as the country struggles to contain the spread of the virus.

British Airways and Lufthansa have both announced they would suspend flights to China, as has Indonesia's Lion Air Group, which owns the biggest fleet of planes in southeast Asia.

China has advised its citizens to postpone trips abroad and cancelled overseas group tours, while several countries have urged citizens to avoid travelling to China.

"Markets will remain very volatile due to the (virus) uncertainty and the swings won't subside until we have clear evidence that the virus is fading," said Banny Lam at CEB International Investment.

Investors took some cheer from US data showing healthy consumer activity, a pick-up in consumer confidence and a recovery in the key manufacturing sector.

The Federal Reserve's policy meeting Wednesday is expected to see US interest rates on hold.

- Key figures around 1445 GMT -

London - FTSE 100: UP less than 0.1 percent at 7,483.57 points (close)

Frankfurt - DAX 30: UP 0.2 percent at 13,345.00 (close)

Paris - CAC 40: UP 0.5 percent at 5,954.89 (close)

EURO STOXX 50: UP 0.5 percent at 3,736.36

New York - DOW: UP 0.4 percent at 28,842.63

Hong Kong - Hang Seng: DOWN 2.8 percent at 27,160.63 (close)

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: UP 0.7 percent at 23,379.40 (close)

Shanghai - Composite: Closed for a public holiday

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.1003 from $1.1022 at 2200 GMT

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.3006 from $1.3028

Euro/pound: DOWN at 84.59 pence from 84.61 pence

Dollar/yen: FLAT at 109.15 yen

Brent Crude: UP 0.8 percent at $60.01 per barrel

West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 0.1 percent at $53.42 per barrel