Asia shares struggle to stabilize after punishing week

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Asian share markets were praying for a reprieve at the end of a punishing week as investors snatched at hopes the coronavirus could be contained, even as headlines spoke of more cases and deaths.

FILE PHOTO: Investors look at screens showing stock information at a brokerage house in Shanghai, China January 16, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo

Sentiment got a timely boost when Amazon’s sales blew past all expectations and sent its stock soaring 11% after hours, adding over $100 billion in market worth.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan inched up 0.1%, but was still down 4.1% on the week so far. Its 2.3% dive on Thursday had been the sharpest one-day loss in six months.

Japan’s Nikkei added 0.9%, but again was off 2.7% for the week. E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 held steady having rebounded late Thursday to end up 0.5%.

The World Health Organization declared a global emergency as people infected by the virus spread to 18 countries.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, said the greatest worry was the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems.

Yet investors took heart from comments that the drastic steps Beijing was taking would “reverse the tide” and contain the outbreak.

“Some shorts covered after the director gave the WHO’s stamp of approval to China’s aggressive containment effort,” said Stephen Innes, Asia Pacific market strategist at AxiCorp.

“For now, the market’s risk lights have shifted from flickering on red to a steady shade of amber, which could bring more risk back into play.”

Wall Street quickly recouped its losses and ended higher in the wake of the WHO comments.

The Dow finished up 0.43%, while the S&P 500 gained 0.31% and the Nasdaq 0.26%. After the bell, NASDAQ futures pushed 1.3% higher on the Amazon results.

Still, the flow of news on the virus remained bleak with China’s Hubei province reporting deaths from the disease had risen by 42 to 204 as of the end of Jan. 30.

More airlines curtailed flights into and out of China and companies temporarily closed operations, while Italy became the latest country to confirm cases of the virus.

A reading on Chinese manufacturing for January is due later on Friday and could show the early impact on activity, though the timing of Lunar New Year holidays complicates the picture.

BONDS IN DEMAND

The drum beat of bad news kept safe-haven bonds well bid, with yields on U.S. 10-year Treasury notes down 9 basis points for the week so far and near four-month lows.

The yield curve between three-month bills and 10-year notes had also inverted twice this week, a bearish economic signal.

In currencies, the star performer was sterling which jumped after the Bank of England confounded market expectations by not cutting interest rates on Thursday.

The pound was last at $1.3089, a surprisingly steady performance given this is the day the UK officially leaves the European Union.

The dollar took a slight knock overnight when data showed the U.S. economy grew at its slowest annual pace in three years in 2019 and personal consumption weakened sharply.

It was little changed on the yen early Friday at 108.92 , while the euro was steady at $1.1030. Against a basket of currencies, the dollar was stuck at 97.864.

The dollar has fared much better against emerging market currencies as investors ran from risk.

Spot gold was up 0.2% for the week at $1,574.53 per ounce, but had failed to get much of a safe-haven bid as a range of other commodities, from copper to iron ore, had been hammered by worries about Chinese demand.

Oil was another casualty, hitting its lowest in three months as the global spread of the coronavirus threatened to curb demand for fuel.

Some short covering early on Friday saw U.S. crude regain 75 cents to $52.89 a barrel.

Editing by Sam Holmes

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