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Nikkei Markets

Asian stocks slump after China virus kills six and infects 300

Chinese airlines fall on concerns outbreak could dampen travel demand

HONG KONG (Nikkei Markets) -- Asian shares outside Japan tumbled Tuesday after a new virus in China left at least six people dead and infected about 300, triggering concerns that the outbreak could hurt the regional economic outlook.

The Nikkei Asia300 index fell 1.8% to 1,399.24.

Chinese companies were among the biggest contributors to the losses on the gauge. Air China led airlines lower, tumbling 5.9%, on concerns that people could cut back travel during the upcoming Lunar New Year holiday on account of the new coronavirus. The H-shares of China Southern Airlines and China Eastern Airlines declined at least 6.5% each. An index of Chinese companies listed in Hong Kong, the Hang Seng China Enterprises Index, fell 3.2% to post its biggest drop since Oct. 2018. China Vanke fell 4.2%, Fosun International dropped 4.5%, and China Life Insurance shed 5%.

The losses came after Chinese officials reportedly confirmed that the deadly virus can pass from person to person. The new coronavirus, believed to have originated in the city of Wuhan, has spread to other Chinese cities. Outside of China, cases have been reported in Thailand, South Korea, and Japan.

Jeffrey Halley, a senior market analyst at OANDA, said the cases could rise in the coming days with Chinese citizens traveling back home and abroad for Lunar New Year holidays.

Australia on Tuesday said it would screen passengers on flights from Wuhan on fears that the virus could spread, Reuters reported.

Robert Carnell, the head of research of Asia-Pacific at ING Bank, wrote in a note that the virus "may become a top headline in the coming days and weeks" and could be a potential source of "another economic hit to growth."

Further denting risk appetite across Asia on Tuesday was the downgrade of 2020 global growth estimates by the International Monetary Fund.

In other major movers on the A300, Hong Kong-listed casino operator Galaxy Entertainment Group fell 3.6% amid fears that the virus could lead to a decline in footfalls during the Lunar New Year holiday.

Tencent Holdings declined 2.7%. Chairman Pony Ma sold about five million shares in the company between Jan. 14 and Jan. 17, according to filings with the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

China Unicom Hong Kong declined 3.5% after saying it lost a net of 2.79 million mobile billing subscribers last month.

Hang Lung Properties dropped 4.4% after the Hong Kong property developer reported a 24% decline in its net profit for last year amid lower property sales.

Kasikornbank advanced 3% after the Thai lender said its fourth-quarter net profit increased 25% from a year earlier.

Sembcorp Industries dropped 1.8%. The Singaporean conglomerate said late Monday it complied with its disclosure obligations and adequately updated investors about legal proceedings involving its joint venture company in China, whose staff had been found guilty of illegally discharging waste water.

--Nimesh Vora

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