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Nikkei Markets

Asian stocks fall as China virus infects more people ahead of holidays

Chinese companies among top losers on A300 index

HONG KONG (Nikkei Markets) -- Asian shares outside Japan fell Thursday amid increasing concerns over the spread of a deadly respiratory virus ahead of the Lunar New Year break.

The Nikkei Asia300 index of companies outside Japan fell 1% to 1,395.23.

After a rebound yesterday, Asian equities were back to losing ways on worries about the virus which has so far claimed 17 lives in China and infected about 550 people. The Chinese city of Wuhan where the virus originated was put in a lockdown to contain the virus. Public transport in and out Wuhan was halted Thursday.

The virus has not only spread from Wuhan to other Chinese cities but to four Asian countries and to the U.S. South Korea, Japan, Thailand, and Taiwan have confirmed cases of the virus.

Efforts to contain the virus will not be helped by the upcoming Lunar New Year holidays when millions of Chinese travel back home.

Jingyi Pan, a market strategist at IG Asia, said investors in Asia would be particularly worried that the Lunar New Year holidays could be "an expected catalyst for widening of the spread of this coronavirus."

Chinese companies were among the top losers on the A300 gauge on Thursday. Air China paced losses among airlines, slipping 3.6%. Mobile phone services operator China Unicom (Hong Kong) dropped 5.6% after its preliminary profit for 2019 missed estimates. Heavyweight Tencent Holdings declined 1.4%. An index of Chinese companies listed in Hong Kong lost 2%. The gauge has lost 4.1% this week so far.

Outside of mainland companies, Samsung Electronics fell 2.4%.

Kia Motors advanced 1.9% after the South Korean carmaker said that fourth-quarter operating profit jumped 55%.

Hyundai Motor rose 2.8%, adding to yesterday's 8.5% gain after its December quarter operating profit beat estimates.

Larsen & Toubro advanced 3% after the India's biggest engineering and construction company reported a 15% year-on-year increase in third-quarter net profit.

Meanwhile, Indonesia's central bank on Thursday left the key policy rate unchanged at 5%, in-line with expectations.

-- Nimesh Vora

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