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James Hyerczyk
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The major Asia Pacific stock indexes finished mixed on Friday as investors continued to assess the potential damage to the local and global economies by the spread of the coronavirus. Major markets across the region such as China and South Korea were closed on Friday ahead of the Lunar New Year that starts on Saturday.

On Friday, Japan’s Nikkei 225 Index settled at 23827.18, up 31.74 or +0.13%. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index finished at 27949.64, up 40.52 or +0.15% and Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 Index closed at 7090.50, up 2.50 or +0.04%.

On Thursday, China’s Shanghai Index settled at 2976.53 and South Korea’s KOSPI Index finished at 2246.13.

Coronavirus Update

China’s National Health Commission said as many as 25 people have died from a fast-spreading coronavirus, as the total number of confirmed cases in the country rose to 830. There are at least 14 known cases outside mainland China, bringing the cases worldwide to 844.

China’s Finance Ministry said it has allocated 1 billion yuan ($145 million) to support Hubei providence to fight to contain the outbreak.

Multiple cases of the virus have been confirmed in Thailand, Vietnam, South Korea and Japan, while the United States, Taiwan and Singapore have each reported one case.


World Health Organization Statement Calms Investors

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday said at a press conference the outbreak did not yet constitute a global public health emergency.

“Make no mistake, this is, though, an emergency in China. But, it has not yet become a global health emergency. It may yet become one,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO. He added the organization’s assessment is that “the outbreak is very high-risk in China, and high-risk regionally and globally.”

New Zealand Dollar Rises on CPI Data, Capped by Virus Fears

The New Zealand Dollar rose on stronger-than-expected inflation data but fears about the spread of the coronavirus kept a lid on the currency gains.

The data released earlier in the day showed the consumer price index (CPI) rose 0.5 percent in the December quarter, taking the annual inflation rate to 1.9 percent, just a little below the mid-point of the Reserve Bank’s target range. Economists had been expecting a quarterly increase of 0.4 percent for an annual rise of 1.8 percent.

“The market reacted the way it did because of the difference between the Reserve Bank’s forecast of 0.2 percent and the actual outcome,” said Peter Cavanaugh, the senior client adviser at Bancorp Treasury Services.

Global Uncertainties Overshadowed BOJ’s December Meeting

Some Bank of Japan policymakers warned that global uncertainties and last year’s sales tax hike may have hurt capital spending and inflation expectations, minutes of the central bank’s December rate review showed on Friday.

At the December meeting, the BOJ kept monetary policy steady but its Governor Haruhiko Kuroda warned that risks to Japan’s economic recovery remained high.

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