A currency trader watches monitors at the foreign exchange dealing room of the KEB Hana Bank headquarters in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020. Asian shares are mostly higher as health authorities around the world move to monitor and contain a deadly virus outbreak in China and keep it from spreading globally. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

Asian shares reverse gains on growing impact of China virus

January 23, 2020 - 1:53 am

BANGKOK (AP) — Asian shares reversed early gains Thursday as health authorities around the world moved to monitor and contain a deadly virus outbreak in China and keep it from spreading globally.

China and other nations have ramped up screenings for fever on aircraft and at airports. The central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the virus is concentrated, closed down its train station and airport Thursday to prevent people from entering or leaving the city. Adding to concerns, the outbreak coincides with the annual travel of hundreds of millions of Chinese for the Lunar New Year festival, which begins Friday.

Japan's Nikkei 225 index skidded 1% to 23,795.44, while the Kospi in South Korea sank 0.9% to 2,246.13. In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng dropped 2.1% to 27,751.30, while the Shanghai Composite index declined 2.8% to 2,973.90. Australia's S&P ASX/200 shed 0.6% to 7,088.00. Shares rose in India and Jakarta but fell in Taiwan and Singapore.

The coronavirus has been confirmed in five countries, including China, the U.S., Thailand, Japan and South Korea. So far, China has confirmed more than 500 people have fallen sick and 17 have died from the illness, which can cause pneumonia and other severe respiratory symptoms.

A World Health Organization committee was scheduled to meet for a second day Thursday as it decides whether to declare China's virus outbreak a global health emergency.

“As far as the market is concerned, the current reaction remains mild and perhaps rightly so given the difficulty to estimate the impact of an evolving syndrome," Jingyi Pan of IG said in a commentary. By postponing a decision on whether the virus is a global health emergency, the WHO helped assuage some fears the crisis is escalating, she said.

In other news, Japan reported Thursday that its trade balance was negative in 2019 for a second straight year, as China-U.S. trade tensions and friction with neighboring South Korea bit into exports.

Overnight, technology companies led stocks to a flat close on Wall Street, erasing early gains. But that was an improvement over Tuesday, when investors dumped shares on fears the outbreak might spread, hurting tourism and ultimately economic growth and corporate profits.

The S&P 500 index rose 0.1% to 3,321.75 after gaining as much as 0.5% earlier in the day. The Dow Jones Industrial Average reversed an early gain, edging less than 0.1% lower to 29,186.27.

The Nasdaq composite gained 0.1% to 9,383.77, while the Russell 2000 index of smaller company stocks slipped 0.1% to 1,684.46.

Bond prices fell. The 10-year Treasury yield slipped to 1.75% from 1.77% late Wednesday.

While only about 10% of S&P 500 companies have reported their results for the last three months of 2019, early indications are encouraging. Of those companies that have reported results, 78.4% topped analysts’ forecasts for profits, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence.

Those forecasts were low, to be sure, with analysts saying S&P 500 profits fell last quarter for the fourth consecutive time, according to FactSet.

Benchmark crude oil fell $1.13 to $55.61 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It lost $1.64 to settle at $56.74 a barrel on Wednesday. Brent crude oil, the international standard, gave up $1.08 cents to $62.13 per barrel. It slid $1.38 to close at $63.21 a barrel overnight.

Gold fell 70 cents to $1,555.90 per ounce, silver lost 11 cents to $17.72 per ounce and copper fell 3 cents to $2.77 per pound.

The dollar fell to 109.53 Japanese yen from 109.83 yen on Wednesday. The euro weakened to $1.1085 from $1.1097.

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AP Business writers Alex Veiga and Damian J. Troise contributed.

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