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Nikkei Markets

Asian stocks fall as South Korea reports jump in coronavirus cases

Lotte Shopping paces losses among South Korean companies

HONG KONG (Nikkei Markets) -- Asian shares outside of Japan declined Thursday after South Korea reported a jump in coronavirus cases and two Japanese nationals died from the virus infection.

The Nikkei Asia300 index of companies outside Japan fell 0.6% to 1,364.01.

South Korea's Kospi index, which had opened on a positive note, closed 0.7% lower. The nation reported 31 new cases of the virus following an outbreak traced to a church. The total number of infections in the country now stands at more than 80.

Meanwhile, two passengers from a coronavirus-hit cruise ship that had been quarantined in Japan died, a Japanese health ministry official reportedly said Thursday. Japan yesterday allowed passengers who have tested negative for the virus to disembark from the vessel.

Risk appetite in Asia was not helped by the dollar index's climb to near three-year highs amid upbeat U.S. housing data. Jingyi Pan, a market strategist at IG Asia, said the "raging dollar index" could potentially be a source of worry for Asian assets and could cap any potential upside in the days ahead.

Asian currencies fell alongside equities. The South Korean won dropped 1.1% and the onshore Chinese yuan slipped 0.4%. China on Thursday cut the one-year loan prime rate by 10 basis points and the 5-year LPR by five basis points to combat the impact of the coronavirus on businesses.

"The latest LPR cut will help companies weather the damage from the coronavirus at the margins. But even if the decline is passed on to all borrowers, it would only decrease average one-year bank lending rates from 5.44% to 5.34%," Capital Economics said in a note. "The ability of firms to postpone loan repayments and access loans on preferential terms will matter more in the near-term."

In movers on the A300 on Thursday, Lotte Shopping, down 4.5%, paced losses among South Korean companies. Heavyweight Samsung Electronics slipped 0.3%.

Hong Kong-listed Chinese personal computer maker Lenovo Group jumped 7% after reporting a better-than-expected 10.7% on-year increase in net profit for third quarter.

Hong Kong-listed Macao casino operators Sands China and Galaxy Entertainment Group lost 0.8% and 0.5%, respectively. The losses came amid some casinos in the Asian gaming hub reopening on Thursday after a two-week shutdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Macao so far has reported 10 confirmed cases of the infection.

Siam Commercial Bank dropped 4.6% after the Thai lender reported that net profit for 2019 was little changed.

Maxis added 0.6%. The Malaysian telecom operator reported a 33.5% on-year increase in fourth-quarter net profit.

--Nimesh Vora

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