HONG KONG (Nikkei Markets) -- Asian shares outside of Japan ended little changed on Thursday as rising cases of the novel coronavirus infections outside China hurt investor appetite.
The Nikkei Asia300 index of companies outside Japan closed almost unchanged at 1,308.22 after falling 1% earlier in the day.
A late session recovery in Chinese financial firms helped the index pare the losses. A gauge of Chinese companies listed in Hong Kong advanced 0.9%. Industrial & Commercial Bank of China rose 2.3% and China Construction Bank gained 1.9%.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control & Prevention said Thursday that the total number of people infected by the coronavirus in South Korea had reached about 1,600 after more than 300 new cases were diagnosed.
The 307 new cases were the largest daily increase in the country since it confirmed the first case on January 20, according to calculations by Reuters.
Meanwhile, Italy, another country at the center of the virus outbreak, reported that more than 400 people were now infected by the virus. Elsewhere, Brazil and Greece reported a case of a person who had travelled to Italy. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a first possible case.
Germany's health minister said that the nation was at the beginning of an epidemic after new cases originated can no longer be traced to the virus's original source in China.
"Recent news reports suggest the coronavirus is moving from a regional public health crisis to a more global phenomenon," Goldman Sachs said in a note. "Markets will now need to price a wider distribution of possible outcomes for the global economy. Investors should prepare for a longer period of virus-related uncertainty."
South Korea's benchmark equity index declined 1.1%. Hyundai Motor dropped 1.2% and LG Electronics fell 1.4%. Heavyweights Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing and Samsung Electronics lost at least 0.8% each.
The Bank of Korea on Thursday surprisingly left its key policy rate unchanged against expectations of a quarter percentage rate cut.
Wharf Real Estate Investment Co. slumped 6.2% in Hong Kong, after Wheelock & Co., which holds a 66.5% controlling interest in the company, said it received a proposal for privatization from an investor backed by Wheelock's controlling shareholders. Wheelock shares surged 39.7%.
Malayan Banking added 2.3% after Malaysia's biggest bank by assets reported a 5.2% year-on-year increase in December quarter net profit.
Hong Kong-listed Casino operator Galaxy Entertainment Group fell 2.2% after saying its last year's net profit declined 3.4%, dragged down by lower gross revenue from gaming operations.
BDO Unibank jumped 4.4% after the Philippine lender reportedly announced a 35% jump in net income for 2019.