February 25, 2020 / 3:56 AM / a month ago

Nikkei hits 4-month low as coronavirus epidemic spreads

TOKYO, Feb 25 (Reuters) - Japan’s Nikkei share average fell nearly 5% to a four-month low on Tuesday, as investors returning after a long weekend dumped riskier assets following a spike in coronavirus infections outside China that threatened global growth.

The Nikkei share average tumbled as much as 4.5% to its lowest since late October and was last down 2.99% at 22,686.61. An immediate support for the index was seen at its 200-day moving average at 22,196.

The index showed a delayed reaction to falls in global stocks on Monday, when Japanese markets were shut for the emperor’s birthday.

The broader Topix declined 2.71% to 1,628.59, with 97% of the stocks on the main board in the red.

“In addition to rising infections, day by day more companies are refraining from events and business trips. That will surely have an impact on upcoming economic indicators,” said Seiji Arai, senior investment strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities.

The coronavirus death toll climbed to seven in Italy on Monday and several Middle East countries were dealing with their first infections, feeding worries it could turn into a pandemic.

Railway operators, normally seen as defensive plays, were hit hard after the Japanese government advised citizens and firms against making unnecessary travels.

Central Japan Railway, which runs bullet trains between Tokyo and Osaka, fell 4.7% to a two-year low and East Japan Railway dropped 1.5% to a three-and-a-half year low.

Keisei Electric Railway dropped 5.2%.

Beer makers were also under pressure, with Asahi Group Holdings, Kirin Holdings and Suntory Beverage falling between 3.7% and 5.9%.

Cinema operator Toho fell 4.3% and advertising firm Dentsu plunged 6% to hit a six-and-a-half year low on rising questions over whether the Tokyo Olympics will be held as planned.

The yen’s sharp rebound over the past couple of sessions hit exporters. Mazda Motor fell 4.9% and Toyota Motor lost 2.9%.

Fujifilm Holding bucked the trend to jump 5.6% and hit a record high after a media report that Japan is mulling use the company’s anti-flu drug Avigan to treat coronavirus. (Reporting by Hideyuki Sano; Editing by Amy Caren Daniel)

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