Asian markets gain as China closes down for Lunar New Year

BANGKOK (AP) — Shares were mostly higher in quiet trading yesterday in Asia as China began a week-long Lunar New Year festival that is being overshadowed by the outbreak of a new virus that has killed 25 people and sickened over 800.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 index rose less than 0.1 per cent to 23,827.18 and in Hong Kong the Hang Seng gained 0.2 per cent to 27,949.64 in a shortened session. Australia’s S&P ASX/200 picked up 2.5 points to 7,090.50, and the Sensex in India rose 0.3 per cent, to 41,517.33.

Markets were closed in Shanghai and the rest of mainland China, South Korea and Malaysia.

As authorities confirmed more cases of the new virus first reported in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, investors continued to monitor developments in the international effort to keep it from spreading further and potentially harming the global economy.

The World Health Organization decided on Thursday against declaring the outbreak a global emergency for now. Such a declaration could increase resources for battling the outbreak but also result in trade and travel restrictions and other economic damage.

A woman walks past a securities firm in Tokyo. PHOTO: AP

Fears that the coronavirus could spread have weighed on global markets this week, driving up demand for United States (US) government bonds and safe-play stocks. Market “traders are weighing the anticipated China growth fallout against the backdrop of the current global growth recovery. While the calculus is not coming up roses, it’s far from a state of global market panic,” Stephen Innes of AxiCorp said in a commentary.

Major US stock indexes closed mostly higher on Thursday, as gains in technology and industrial companies offset declines elsewhere in the market.

The S&P 500 notched a small gain for the second straight day, climbing 0.1 per cent to 3,325.54, while a modest pick-up nudged the Nasdaq composite to an all-time high of 9,402.48, up 0.2 per cent. The Dow Jones Industrial Average edged 0.1 per cent lower to 29,160.09, its third straight day of losses as the benchmark was weighed down by a steep drop in shares of Travelers Cos.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller company stocks rose less than 0.1 per cent, to 1,685.01.

Excluding the Nasdaq, the major US stock indexes are on track to end the week with a loss.

Bond prices rose, pulling the yield on the 10-year Treasury lower to 1.73 per cent from 1.77 per cent late Wednesday.

Benchmark crude oil gained 30 cents to USD55.89 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It fell USD1.15 to settle at USD55.59 a barrel on Thursday. Brent crude oil, the international standard, picked up 34 cents to USD62.38 per barrel. It dropped USD1.17 to close at USD62.04 a barrel overnight.

Gold fell back, losing USD5.50 to USD1,559.90. Silver shed USD0.04 to USD17.79 per ounce and copper fell USD0.04 to USD2.73 per pound.

The dollar rose to JPY109.54 from JPY109.49 on Thursday. The euro weakened to USD1.1045 from USD1.1056.