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Asian markets fall as virus hits earnings, growth

There are growing fears over the fallout from the new coronavirus that has so far killed more than 1,800 people and infected nearly 72,500, mostly in mainland China (AFP Photo/VIVEK PRAKASH)

Asian markets tumbled Tuesday after Apple warned the new coronavirus had hit output and demand in China, fuelling fears over the wider impact of the epidemic on corporate earnings and economic growth.

Investors looked past a positive lead from European bourses to focus on the spiralling fallout from the virus that has so far killed more than 1,800 people and infected nearly 72,500, mostly in mainland China.

As well as denting company bottom lines, the virus has sparked panic buying, economic jitters and the cancellation of high-profile sporting and cultural events.

"Best to buckle in as we could be in for a bumpy ride (over) the next few weeks," said Stephen Innes of AxiCorp.

"I'm struggling to find any research report that doesn't suggest (COVID-19) could significantly affect short term earnings."

Apple suppliers in Asia were hit by the tech giant's warning that it would miss its quarterly revenue forecast because of the virus, dragging markets lower.

Tokyo's benchmark Nikkei 225 index closed down 1.4 percent -- its fourth straight session in the red -- a day after data showed the economy shrank in the December quarter, even before the effects of the virus hit Japan.

Hong Kong was 1.5 percent lower as banking heavyweight HSBC reported a 33 percent fall in 2019 pre-tax profits alongside an announcement that it was cutting 35,000 jobs. Its shares were off 2.8 percent.

Mainland China's benchmark Shanghai Composite Index recovered earlier losses to close up 0.1 percent.

Elsewhere, Singapore fell 0.6 percent as investors digested the government's decision to cut its economic growth forecast for this year as the virus batters the city state's tourism and trade.

- Uncertainty -

Seoul was off 1.5 percent and Taipei lost one percent. Sydney shed 0.2 percent.

Investors have taken some comfort from a slowdown in new infections outside hardest-hit Hubei province, which Chinese officials say is a sign that the outbreak is under control.

But World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the trend "must be interpreted very cautiously".

IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva said Sunday there could be a cut of around 0.1-0.2 percentage points to global growth but stressed there was much uncertainty about the virus's economic impact.

Further moves by China's central bank on Monday to cushion the world's second-largest economy against the health crisis appear to have done little to allay concerns.

European markets opened lower Tuesday, with London's FTSE 100 and the Paris CAC both falling 0.5 percent. Germany's DAX was down 0.6 percent.

Eurogroup chief Mario Centeno predicted Monday the coronavirus would have a "temporary" impact on the eurozone and the WHO warned against over-reacting about the epidemic.

US markets were closed Monday for a holiday.

China is the world's biggest importer and consumer of oil, and crude prices have been particularly sensitive to the epidemic that has spread to nearly 30 countries and territories.

Global oil demand will suffer its first quarterly drop in a decade as the virus lashes China's economy and its impact ripples throughout the world, the International Energy Agency warned last week.

Brent Crude fell 1.5 percent and West Texas Intermediate was down 1.3 percent.

Gold, seen as a safe haven in times of uncertainty, was up 0.5 percent.

- Key figures around 0830 GMT -

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: DOWN 1.4 percent at 23,193.80 (close)

Shanghai - Composite: UP 0.1 percent at 2,984.97 (close)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng: DOWN 1.5 percent at 27,530.20 (close)

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.0829 from $1.0832

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 109.72 from 109.76

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2982 from $1.2991

Euro/pound: UP at 83.41 pence from 83.38 pence

Brent Crude: DOWN 1.5 percent at $56.82 per barrel

West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 1.3 percent at $51.38

London - FTSE 100: DOWN 0.5 percent at 7,396.02 points

New York - CLOSED for holiday