Global equity markets slumped on Thursday after a new methodology that boosted the death toll in China from the coronavirus unnerved investors, putting the brakes on a rally that had lifted North American and European stocks to record peaks.
Chinese officials said 242 people died in Hubei province on Wednesday, the biggest daily rise since the virus emerged in the provincial capital of Wuhan in December.
Hubei had previously only allowed infections to be confirmed by RNA tests, which can take days, and began using computerized tomography (CT) scans to identify and isolate cases faster. The move effectively lowered the bar for classifying new infections.
As a result, 14,840 new cases were reported in the province on Thursday, up from 2,015 new cases nationwide a day earlier.
Investors sought safety in U.S. assets, pushing the yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note lower as the euro plunged to a more than two-year low against the dollar. The euro fell to a four-and-a-half-year low against the Swiss franc.
The United States is expected to weather the economic impact of the virus better than the euro zone.
The chief economist of AXA Investment Managers, Gilles Moec, said the impact of the virus could be part of a “perfect storm” for Europe that hurts the economy for months before being compounded by a heated trade battle with the United States.
“We started with the premise that this virus would be worse than SARS and that has now become consensus,” Moec said. “So attention turns to who is hit the hardest, and Europe is among the usual suspects and Germany in particular, given China is its biggest export market. So the reaction of the exchange rate is probably rational.”
Canada’s main stock index fell slightly on Thursday for the first time in four sessions
The Toronto Stock Exchange’s S&P/TSX composite index was unofficially down 11.68 points, or 0.07 per cent, at 17,821.17.
A dramatic jump in new infected cases in China after it deployed a new diagnostic method and a record rise in the death toll, wiped any optimism of a slowing spread rate that had propelled Canada’s benchmark to new highs for the last two sessions.
The energy sector dropped 0.5 per cent, while the materials sector, which includes precious and base metals miners and fertilizer companies, added 0.6 per cent as gold futures rose.
Leading the index were Wesdome Gold Mines Ltd, up 8.6 per cent, Bombardier Inc,, up 8.3 per cent, and Real Matters Inc,, higher by 4.7 per cent.
Lagging shares were iA Financial Corporation Inc., down 4.3 per cent, Semafo Inc., down 4.0 per cent, and Canada Goose Holdings Inc., lower by 3.8 per cent.
The U.S. dollar index rose 0.02 per cent, with the euro down 0.26 per cent to $1.0843.
Europe’s main markets followed Asia into red, while stocks on Wall Street traded slightly lower to little changed.
MSCI’s gauge of stocks across the globe shed 0.08 per cent and its emerging markets index lost 0.33 per cent.
The pan-European STOXX 600 index lost 0.02 per cent.
The FTSE 100 in London slid 1.1 per cent, derailed by steep falls in heavyweights Barclays and utility Centrica , along with the jolt to risk sentiment from the rise in coronavirus cases in China.
On Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 127.75 points, or 0.43 per cent, to 29,423.67, the S&P 500 lost 5.33 points, or 0.16 per cent, to 3,374.12 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 13.99 points, or 0.14 per cent, to 9,711.97
While the jump in reported coronavirus cases was unsettling, markets in Asia took the news in stride.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan snapped two days of 1 per cent gains to close 0.1 per cent lower as most markets across the region posted modest declines.
“There is no panic on this,” said Frank Benzimra, head of Asia equity strategy at Societe Generale in Hong Kong, since the dramatic rise in cases seems so far to be contained to Hubei.
Oil prices rose, shrugging off bearish reports that cut back demand forecasts for this year on the back of the coronavirus outbreak. China is the world’s biggest oil importer.
Paring losses from earlier in the session, Brent crude rose 55 cents to settle at $56.34 a barrel, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate added 25 cents to settle at $51.42 a barrel.
Benchmark 10-year notes last rose 2/32 in price to yield 1.619 per cent. The yield earlier fell to 1.568 per cent.
U.S. gold futures settled up 0.5 per cent at $1,578.80 an ounce.
There was drama for Brexit-bound British markets.
The sudden resignation of the British finance minister Sajid Javid caused a jump in both sterling and British government bond yields amid bets that his replacement, the 39-year-old Rishi Sunak, will beef up spending.
Javid’s departure, coming less than a month before he was due to deliver his first budget and after just 204 days on the job, made him the shortest-serving chancellor of the exchequer since 1970.
“I suspect he (Sunak) is likely to do whatever Boris Johnson tells him to do,” said Nomura economist George Buckley. “I don’t know what that means for the public finances and fiscal policy, but I doubt it will mean tighter fiscal policy.”