Asian markets dive as virus hammers economy

Poor US economic figures spook investors, fuelling worries of full impact of pandemic

Afp April 16, 2020
Poor US economic figures spook investors, fuelling worries of full impact of pandemic. PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG: Asian markets fell on Thursday following overnight woes on Wall Street as more negative US economic data fuelled worries about the full impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

There had already been a spate of grim economic forecasts this week, with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warning of the worst global downturn in a century, and poor US economic figures released on Wednesday further spooked investors.

The woes on Wall Street discouraged traders in Asia, where Tokyo closed down 1.3%, Hong Kong ended 0.6% lower, Sydney lost 0.9% and Taipei shed 0.7%.

Seoul was flat, while Shanghai closed 0.3% higher and Singapore was up 0.7%.

The latest numbers from the United States, the world's biggest economy, highlighted the scale of the damage unleashed by lockdowns and social distancing measures imposed to try and stop the spread of the virus.

US retail sales plunged in March while industrial production in the same month suffered its steepest drop since 1946, data showed on Wednesday.

Other reports pointed to weak homebuilder sentiment and manufacturing conditions, while a Federal Reserve report said American economic activity "contracted sharply".

"The economic data was nothing short of disastrous," Ann Miletti of Wells Fargo Asset Management told Bloomberg TV.

"How long can you sustain the shutdown is what's on investors' minds."

European equities bounced back in early on Thursday trading despite the negative cues from Asia and Wall Street.

London was up 0.3%, Frankfurt was 1.3% higher and Paris gained 1.2%.

President Donald Trump has said that he will on Thursday announce the first plans for lifting lockdowns in the US – the worst-hit country with the most virus deaths and infections.

The World Health Organization has warned, however, that lifting virus-related restrictions too early could have devastating consequences, with fears of a possible second wave of infections.

"Any recovery in risk sentiment depends on how quickly economies can reopen without risking overloading their healthcare systems and, most of all, not risking any chance of a secondary spread," said Stephen Innes, chief global markets strategist at AxiCorp.

"The risk of escalating economic damage is putting...governments under immense pressure to relax social distancing measures sooner, rather than later."