Hong Kong’s main stock index has fallen 5% in two days as the rising number of coronavirus cases creates uncertainty for the global economy. The Chinese yuan also tumbled below an important benchmark.
The Hang Seng (HSI) slid 2.6% on Thursday, adding to losses posted Wednesday when investors returned from an extended break over the Lunar New Year and subjected the index to its worst trading session in months.
In total, the index has fallen more than 6% this month.
The yuan tumbled in offshore trading, briefly breaking below the 7 yuan per US dollar mark for the first time this year. That amount is considered to be a psychologically important marker — when the yuan crossed that threshold last year, markets were briefly rattled.
The currency was last trading offshore, where it moves more freely than on the mainland, at 6.997 yuan per US dollar.
Japan’s Nikkei 225 (N225) and South Korea’s Kospi (KOSPI) each ended down 1.7% Thursday. Among other Asian markets, Taiwan’s benchmark Taiex sank 5.8%, making it the biggest loser in the region.
European stocks and US futures are also falling. The Dow (INDU), S&P 500 (SPX) and Nasdaq Composite (COMP) were all down roughly 0.6%.
The coronavirus crisis keeps escalating. It has now left 170 people dead in mainland China. Mainland China also has more than 7,700 confirmed cases of the virus, with dozens more worldwide.
Airlines around the world have suspended flights to China in response. And analysts have said the virus could hurt China’s economy.
“We expect Asian investors to remain focused on the downside risk from the coronavirus outbreak for now as the number of confirmed cases continue to rise, albeit the majority of them in China,” said Tai Hui, Asia chief market strategist for JP Morgan Asset Management.
US Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, meanwhile, said Wednesday that the central bank is “carefully” monitoring the coronavirus situation. Powell predicted it will probably disrupt the Chinese economy. But he also noted that the economic disruption from the disease remains in “very early stages,” and it’s unclear how far it will spread and how much damage it will do to economies.
The Fed held interest rates steady at its meeting, as expected.
Chinese markets remain closed on Thursday for the Lunar New Year holiday and are expected to reopen Monday.
On the oil market, Brent crude and US oil futures each dropped 1.4% during Asian trading hours. Prices have fallen since last week because of worries that the coronavirus outbreak could affect global oil demand.