Business / Financial Markets

Nikkei briefly falls 1,000 points over coronavirus fears

Kyodo

Tokyo stocks plunged Tuesday, with the benchmark Nikkei 225 average briefly losing more than 1,000 points before ending at a four-month low as part of a wider global market rout driven by concerns that a surge in coronavirus infections outside China could dent global economic growth.

With hopes fading that the outbreak had been contained in Asia, markets in Europe and the U.S. tumbled sharply the previous day. The Tokyo Stock Exchange suffered its biggest one-day loss in 14 months Tuesday, with marine transportation and metal product issues among the hardest hit, while investors fled to the safety of government debt and gold.

The Nikkei plummeted 781.33 points, or 3.34 percent, from Friday to 22,605.41, marking its lowest close since Oct. 21. Japanese financial markets were closed Monday for the Emperor’s Birthday, a national holiday.

The broader Topix index, which covers all first-section issues on the TSE, finished 55.74 points, or 3.33 percent, lower at 1,618.26.

After falling 400 points at the outset, the Nikkei quickly expanded its losses as investors returning from the three-day weekend immediately priced in reports that coronavirus cases were accelerating rapidly outside China, with Italy, Iran and South Korea reporting worsening situations.

Shares pared some losses later but remained sluggish in the afternoon.

In the currency market, the U.S. dollar stayed in the upper ¥110 level.

“Risk-averse behavior strengthened as the virus infections, which had remained in Asia, spread to Europe and other regions,” said Chihiro Ota, general manager of investment research at SMBC Nikko Securities Inc.

With more restrictions on business trips and factory activity possible due to the outbreak, investors grew concerned about global growth, brokers said.

Market players will be keeping an eye on upcoming economic data, particularly U.S. household spending, said Maki Sawada, vice president of the investment research and investor services department at Nomura Securities Co.

If it proves the situation is continuing to worsen, “the Nikkei would drop to the 22,100 level,” Sawada said.

On the first section, declining issues outnumbered advancers 2,129 to 26, while five ended unchanged.

Steel and mining issues sank because a global economic slowdown would weigh on demand for raw materials.

Nippon Steel dropped ¥79.00, or 5.9 percent, to ¥1,270.50, while JFE Holdings slid ¥56, or 5.1 percent, to ¥1,050.

Oil explorer Inpex sank ¥49.50, or 4.6 percent, to ¥1,020.00, with Japan Petroleum Exploration plunging ¥161, or 5.8 percent, to ¥2,605.

Bucking the downward trend, Fujifilm Holdings advanced ¥153, or 2.8 percent, to ¥5,567 after health minister Katsunobu Kato said Saturday that Japan is considering using Avigan, an anti-influenza medication developed by a Fujifilm group company, to treat coronavirus patients.

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