Shares step back as hopes of early end to coronavirus fade

TOKYO (Reuters) – Global shares eased on Friday, as investors were spooked by a sharp rise in the number of coronavirus cases in China this week while oil prices extended gains on hopes of more production cuts.

FILE PHOTO – Pedestrians wearing facial masks are reflected on an electric board showing stock prices outside a brokerage at a business district in Tokyo, Japan January 30, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS dipped 0.08% with South Korea’s Kospi .KS11 falling 0.25% while Japan’s Nikkei .N225 slid 0.67%.

U.S. stock futures ESc1 shed 0.07% in Asia, after the S&P 500 .SPX lost 0.16%.

China’s Hubei province on Friday reported 4,823 new cases, well above the levels seen earlier this month. While a record spike seen a day earlier was mostly due to new methodology used to count new infections, it nonetheless weighed on investor sentiment.

“Until Wednesday, people had been saying that you can buy shares because the number of new cases had peaked out. The reality seems to be quite different. An early end to this seems improbable,” said Norihiro Fujito, chief investment strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities.

Japan confirmed its first coronavirus death on Thursday, a third case outside mainland China after two previous fatalities in Hong Kong and the Philippines.

“Investors will surely avoid Asia for the time being and will shift funds to the U.S., geographically the most separated from the region,” he said.

That meant more demand for the U.S. dollar in the currency exchange market.

The dollar’s index against a basket of currencies =USD hit a four-month high, having risen 1.8% so far this month.

The euro fell to as low as $1.0834, its lowest level in almost three years, in U.S. trade on Thursday. It last stood at $1.0840 EUR=,

It also hit a nine-week low against the British pound and 4-1/2 year low against the Swiss franc.

The euro has been bruised also by rising political uncertainties in Germany as well as worries about sluggish growth in the region.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who had been long expected to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel next year, earlier this week gave up her bid to run for the top job, raising more concerns about political stability in the euro zone’s biggest economy.

The euro zone GDP data due later on Friday is expected show a paltry growth of 0.1%.

Sterling jumped and so did UK bond yields as investors bet on a higher-spending budget next month after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson forced the resignation of Sajid Javid as finance minister.

Javid, known to have been at odds with Johnson’s powerful policy adviser Dominic Cummings over spending plans, was replaced by Rishi Sunak, a Johnson ultra-loyalist.

The pound traded at $1.3045 GBP=D4, after 0.65% gains on Thursday.

The 10-year gilts yield jumped to a three-week high of 0.660% GB10YT=RR.

The yen stayed in a familiar range in the past couple of weeks and last traded at 109.82 yen JPY=.

Oil prices extended their week-old recovery on hopes that he world’s biggest producers would cut output more as demand looks set to drop sharply due to the outbreak of coronavirus.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) expects oil demand in the first quarter to fall for the first time in 10 years.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures CLc1 were flat at $51.42 per barrel in early Friday trade but up 2.2% on the week, on course to post their first weekly gains in six weeks.

(This story was refiled to correct syntax in headline)

Editing by Sam Holmes

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