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Asian shares slide on fears virus will stunt global economy

Currency traders work at the foreign exchange dealing room of the KEB Hana Bank headquarters in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020. Asian shares slid Wednesday following another sharp fall on Wall Street as fears spread that the growing virus outbreak will put the brakes on the global economy.(AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon) Currency traders work at the foreign exchange dealing room of the KEB Hana Bank headquarters in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020. Asian shares slid Wednesday following another sharp fall on Wall Street as fears spread that the growing virus outbreak will put the brakes on the global economy.(AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon) | Photo: AP.

By YURI KAGEYAMA
Updated: February 25, 2020 11:03 PM
Created: February 25, 2020 10:54 PM

TOKYO (AP) - Asian shares slid Wednesday following another sharp fall on Wall Street as fears spread that the growing virus outbreak will put the brakes on the global economy.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 declined 1.1% to 22,357.39, while Australia's S&P/ASX 200 dipped 2.1% to 6,720.70. South Korea's Kospi lost 1.1% at 2,080.46. Hong Kong's Hang Seng declined 0.6% to 26,722.29. The Shanghai Composite reversed early losses,gaining 0.3% to 3,022.21.

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Shares fell in Taiwan and most of Southeast Asia but rose in Malaysia following recent losses due to political turmoil.

On Wall Street, the S&P 500 has lost 7.6% in the last four days since hitting a record high last Wednesday. That's the benchmark index's worst such stretch since the end of 2018, resulting in $2.14 trillion in losses, according to S&P Global. Tuesday also marked the first back-to-back 3% losses for the index since the summer of 2015.

The latest wave of selling came as more companies, including United Airlines and Mastercard, warned the outbreak will hurt their finances, and more cases were reported in Europe and the Middle East, far from the epicenter in China. Meanwhile, U.S. health officials called on Americans to be prepared for the disease to spread in the United States, where there are currently just a few dozen cases.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 879 points, for a two-day loss of 1,911 points. Travel-related stocks took another drubbing, bringing the two-day loss for American Airlines to 16.9%. The large publicly traded cruise operators have also suffered double-digit losses.

The worst-case scenario for investors - where the virus spreads around the world and cripples supply chains and the global economy - hasn't changed in the last few weeks. But the probability of it happening has risen, said Yung-Yu Ma, chief investment strategist at BMO Wealth Management.

"It's the combination of South Korea, Japan, Italy and even Iran" reporting virus cases, Ma said. "That really woke up the market."

The S&P 500 index fell 3%, the Dow lost 3.2% and the Nasdaq dropped 2.8%, erasing its gains for the year.

Technology stocks, which rely heavily on China for both sales and supply chains, once again led the decline. Apple dropped 3.4% and chipmaker Nvidia slid 4.1%.

Bond prices continued rising. The yield on the 10-year Treasury fell as low as 1.31%, a record, according to TradeWeb, before recovering somewhat to 1.35% in the late afternoon. The yield is down from 1.37% late Monday and far below the 1.90% it stood at in early 2020.

The lower bond yields, which force interest rates lower on mortgages and other loans, weighed on banks. JPMorgan Chase slid 4.5% and Bank of America fell 5%.

Real estate companies and utilities also fell, though they held up better than the rest of the market as investors favored safe-play stocks.

The viral outbreak that originated in China has now infected more than 80,000 people globally, with more cases being reported in Europe and the Middle East. The majority of cases and deaths remain centered in China, but the rapid spread to other parts of the world has spooked markets and raised fears that it will hurt the global economy.

On Tuesday, U.S. health officials warned that it's inevitable the virus will spread more widely in America.

"It's not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen - and how many people in this country will have severe illness," Dr. Nancy Messonnier of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a call with reporters.

United Airlines tumbled 6.5% after withdrawing its financial forecasts for the year because of the impact on demand for air travel. Mastercard dropped 6.7% after saying the impact on cross-border travel and business could cut into its revenue, depending on the duration and severity of the virus outbreak.

Moderna surged 27.8% after the company sent its potential virus vaccine to government researchers for additional testing. The biotechnology company is one several drug developers racing to develop vaccine.

Energy companies have been some of the hardest hit on worries that a weakened global economy will burn less fuel. Exxon Mobil is down 10.2% over the last four days, and the slump has wiped away nearly $26 billion in market value.

But the losses extend far beyond the energy sector. A rapidly spreading virus threatens factories, shipments of parts and customers for businesses around the world. At Apple, which said last week that the virus will force it to fall sort of a previous quarterly revenue forecast, $158.6 billion in market value has vanished in the last four days.

The chief risk is that the stock market was already "priced to perfection," or something close to it, before the virus worries exploded, according to Brian Nick, chief investment strategist at Nuveen.

After getting the benefit of three interest-rate cuts from the Federal Reserve last year and the consummation of a "Phase 1" U.S.-China trade deal, investors were willing to pay high prices for stocks on the expectation that profits would grow in the future.

The S&P 500 was recently trading at its most expensive level, relative to its expected earnings per share, since the dot-com bubble was deflating in 2002, according to FactSet.

If profit growth doesn't ramp up this year, that makes a highly priced stock market even more vulnerable.

ENERGY: Benchmark crude oil rose 35 cents to $50.25 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It fell $1.53 to $49.90 a barrel Tuesday. Brent crude oil, the international standard, rose 36 cents to $54.62 a barrel.

CURRENCIES: The dollar rose to 110.51 Japanese yen from 110.19 yen on Tuesday. The euro slid to $1.0868 from $1.0882.

___

AP Business writers Alex Veiga, Stan Choe, Damian J. Troise and AP Medical Writer Mike Stobbe contributed.


(Copyright 2020 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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