Asia Markets: Asian markets fall as Fed stays still, coronavirus keeps spreading

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Asian markets fell in early trading Thursday, after the U.S. Federal Reserve kept interest rates unchanged, and as investors weighed developments in the spreading coronavirus outbreak.

Fed chief Jerome Powell said Wednesday that the U.S. economy is in good shape, in announcing that the central bank left unchanged a key interest rate that influences borrowing costs. But he also said the Fed is closely monitoring the severity of the deadly coronavirus and the potential for the illness to disrupt the global economy.

Chinese authorities on Thursday said more than 7,700 people have fallen victim to the virus, with at least 170 dead. World Health Organization officials expressed “great concern” of the virus’ spread outside of China. A U.N. panel is expected to meet Thursday to weigh if the outbreak should be declared a global emergency, the Associated Press reported.

Japan’s Nikkei NIK, -1.93%   fell 2% and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index HSI, -2.03%   dropped 1.7%. South Korea’s Kospi 180721, -1.74%   slid 1.5%, while benchmark indexes in Taiwan Y9999, -5.64%  , Singapore STI, -0.58%  , Indonesia JAKIDX, -0.48%   and Malaysia FBMKLCI, -0.14%   declined. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 XJO, -0.33%   dipped 0.5%. Markets in mainland China remained closed for the Lunar New Year holiday.

Semiconductor-equipment maker Advantest 6857, -6.60%   sank in Tokyo trading, along with Casio 6952, -5.25%   and Canon 7751, -5.14%  . Apple component makers AAC 2018, -6.43%   and Sunny Optical 2382, -6.43%   fell in Hong Kong, where Sands China 1928, -4.23%   and Wharf Real Estate 1997, -3.87%   dropped as well. Samsung 005930, -3.21%  ropped in South Korea after posting a nearly 40% drop in quarterly net profit. Apple manufacturer Foxconn 2354, -9.10%   plunged in Taiwan, while Beach Energy BPT, +3.53%  surged in Australia.

“It’s going to be challenging to put concerns over the coronavirus to one side, but fortunately for risk, the robust data in the U.S. should at least be able to keep risk a wobbly but even keel,” wrote Stephen Innes, chief market strategist at AxiTrader.

U.S. stocks were little changed Wednesday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, +0.04%   rose 11.60 points, or 0.4%, to end at 28,734.45, while the S&P 500 index SPX, -0.09%   slipped 2.84 points, or 0.1%, to 3,273.40. The Nasdaq Composite Index COMP, +0.06%   advanced 5.48 points, or 0.1%, to finish at 9,275.16.

Benchmark crude oil CLH20, -1.07%   fell 55 cents to $52.80 a barrel. Brent crude oil BRNH20, -1.00%   , the international standard, fell 59 cents to $59.22.

The dollar USDJPY, -0.09%   slipped to 108.88 Japanese yen from 109.21 yen on Wednesday.

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