Global stocks slide to two-week low on China virus fears, safe havens gain

By Herbert Lash

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Stocks markets tumbled worldwide on Monday as investor worries about the potential economic impact of the coronavirus drove up prices of safe-haven assets such as the Japanese yen and government debt.

China’s yuan slid to a 2020 low and commodity-linked currencies such as the Australian dollar fell on mounting concern about the coronavirus. The yen was the main beneficiary, though its move higher was limited.

Crude prices dropped below $60 a barrel for the first time in nearly three months, while gold prices surged 1% to nearly a three-week high before paring gains.

Benchmark U.S. Treasury yields fell to lows last seen in early October while the yield on 10-year German bunds, the euro zone benchmark, fell to the lowest in almost two months.

Key indexes for British, French and German equity markets slid more than 2%, as did pan-European markets. Stocks on Wall Street fell more than 1%.

Major markets in Asia, including China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore and Australia, were closed on Monday.

MSCI’s gauge of stocks across the globe <.MIWD00000PUS> shed 1.62% to a three-week low, while its emerging market index lost 1.59%.

The broad FTSEurofirst 300 index in Europe <.FTEU3> closed down 2.26 percent at 1,619.00, while the pan-European STOXX 600 index <.STOXX> fell by the same amount.

More than 97% of stocks in the STOXX 600 fell, with many tumbling from record highs. The rout wiped about 180 billion euros ($198.3 billion) of market capitalization from the index.

U.S. stocks fell a bit less. The Dow Jones Industrial Average <.DJI> fell 453.93 points, or 1.57%, to 28,535.8. The S&P 500 <.SPX> lost 51.84 points, or 1.57%, to 3,243.63 and the Nasdaq Composite <.IXIC> dropped 175.60 points, or 1.89%, to 9,139.31.

The Nasdaq had its biggest one-day decline since Aug. 23 while for the Dow it was the biggest since Oct. 2, closing lower for a fifth straight day in its longest losing streak since a five-day decline ending last August. The S&P 500 also posted its biggest daily drop since Oct. 2.

Wall Street was overdue for a correction, said David Kelly, chief global strategist at JPMorgan Funds in New York.

“We have a slow and steady economy, a giddy and fast market and eventually those two things have to meet in the middle somewhere,” he said.

The benchmark S&P 500 rose more than 12% from the end of September to an all-time high last week.

“The market was due for a fall and coronavirus is a perfect case of an unknown unknown. An increase in uncertainty causes the market to fall but the real question here does it affect the global economy?” he said.

Kelly said he did not expect the outbreak to significantly change global economic growth or corporate earnings.

Still, the potential for the virus to spread exponentially was cause for concern, said Matt Weller, global head of market research at GAIN Capital in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Whether the virus scales to epidemic proportions “remains to be seen, but certainly that’s not priced into markets,” he said.

China extended its Lunar New Year holiday and the Shanghai stock exchange said it will reopen Feb. 3. More big businesses in China shut down and told staff to work from home as the death toll rose to 81.

The Nikkei share average <.N225> in Tokyo slumped 2.03%, its biggest percentage fall since August, with tourism shares hard hit.

Infections could continue to rise, China’s National Health Commission said on Sunday. The total number of confirmed cases in China rose to 2,835.

Robert Pavlik, chief investment strategist at SlateStone Wealth LLC in New York said investors are scared that the virus could lead to an economic slowdown but at the moment the market has overreacted.

“The market has been waiting for some sort of sell-off to develop after a roughly 30% year and for a reason for it to happen,” Pavlik said.

Oil prices fell about 2% after earlier sliding more than 3%.

Brent crude <LCOc1> slid $1.37 a barrel to settle down at $59.32, its lowest since late October and the biggest intra-day fall since Jan. 8. U.S. crude <CLc1> fell $1.05 to settle at $53.14 a barrel.

U.S. Treasury prices advanced, pushing their yield lower.

Benchmark 10-year Treasury notes <US10YT=RR> rose 23/32 in price to yield 1.6012%.

The benchmark 10-year Bund yield <DE10YT=RR> fell 5 bps to -0.414%.

Yields on tax-exempt municipal slid to all-time lows. The new 10-year MMD AAA GO yield of 1.18% slid below the previous record low of 1.21% set last August.

In the currency market, the dollar index <.DXY> rose 0.08%, with the euro <EUR=> down 0.05% to $1.1018.

The yen <JPY=> strengthened 0.36% versus the greenback at 108.89 per dollar.

U.S. gold futures <GCv1> settled 0.3% higher at $1,577.4 an ounce, as spot gold <AUX=> climbed to $1,586.43 earlier in the session, the highest level since Jan. 8.[GOL]

(Reporting by Herbert Lash; Editing by David Gregorio)