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Asia report: Stocks hold ground despite coronavirus fears

By Frank Prenesti

Date: Friday 24 Jan 2020

(Sharecast News) - Asian shares held their ground in lower volumes as investors and traders stayed away for the Lunar New Year one week holiday.
With the Chinese coronavirus looming large, markets steadied as the World Health Organisation (WHO) categorised the outbreak as an emergency for China but not for the rest of the world for the time being.

The virus has so far killed 26 people with more than 800 infected. European shares were expected to receive a boost on Friday on the back of the WHO announcement.

The MSCI index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.12%, while Japan's Nikkei gained 0.13% and Australian stocks were flat.

Financial markets in mainland China, Taiwan and South Korea were closed on Friday for the Lunar New Year.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng closed slightly higher with the market trading for half a day.

The Japanese yen, seen as a safe haven currency, rose on coronavirus concerns to 109.52 against the dollar.

Oil prices were under pressure on worries that people would cancel travel plans due to the virus. Brent crude futures rose 0.40% to $62.29 a barrel and West Texas Intermediate futures were 0.43% higher at $55.83, but prices were 5% lower over the week.

Australian shares were flat on coronavirus fears. The S&P/ASX 200 index closed up 0.04% at 7,090.50, driven by stronger bank stocks.

The healthcare sector closed up 0.7%, after hitting a record high earlier in the day, buoyed by index heavyweight CSL Ltd, which closed at an all-time peak.

Broader gains on the local benchmark, though, were tempered by losses in the mining sector, which finished 1.3% lower, battered by a fall in iron ore prices due to concerns about the virus outbreak.

BHP Group fell 1.5% to close at a one-week low, while Rio Tinto tumbled 2.8% to its lowest since January 16.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index slipped 0.2% to close the week at 11,877.81.

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