Asia stock mixed as traders mull jump in coronavirus numbers from new counting method

SYDNEY  – Stocks were mixed in Asian trading on Thursday (Feb 13) as investors mulled over the implications of a surge in the number of coronavirus cases in Hubei, after it deployed a revised methodology.

While the jump in the tally cut against the optimism seen Wednesday about the rate of infections slowing, some analysts were encouraged by what might be a more realistic picture coming from Chinese authorities.

Japan’s Nikkei edged up 0.1 per cent, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng added 0.5 per cent and the Shanghai Composite was little changed.

South Korea’s Kospi index rose 0.3 per cent while Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 Index gained 0.2 per cent.

The Straits Times Index also fluctuated and was down 3.37 points or 0.1 per cent to 3,220.00 at 9:35cm.

Investor sentiment has improved in recent sessions amid speculation the impact from the coronavirus outbreak on global growth would be short-lived. A gauge of global equities hit a record high yesterday.

That was before Hubei, the province at the center of the epidemic, reported almost 15,000 new cases after it revised its data to include “clinically diagnosed” cases in its daily disclosure.

“Just when markets were getting comfortable with the idea that the Covid-19 infection increase was trending lower, the sudden jump in the number of new cases in Hubei has jolted them out of this sence of complacency,” said Khoon Goh, head of Asia research at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd.

By contrast, Andrew Collier, a managing director at Orient Capital Research in Hong Kong, said “we knew that there was a lot of bad testing going on, and that there was a lot of underreporting. So they’re actually starting to report actual figures, and that’s encouraging.”

The yen last traded at 109.91 per dollar while export-exposed currencies, which had rallied on confidence the virus could be contained, retraced rises.

The Australian dollar lost 0.2 per cent, as did China’s yuan and the Korean won. Gold rose 0.3 per cent to US$1570.30 per ounce.

Overnight, World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had warned the apparent slowdown in the spread of the epidemic should be viewed with “extreme caution.”

“This outbreak could still go in any direction,” he told a briefing in Geneva.

More than 1,300 people have died from the epidemic in China and the total number of cases in Hubei province now stands at 48,206.

The economy has also been upended, with factory closures hitting supply chains from car makers to tech firms.

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