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GLOBAL MARKETS-Rally in stocks runs out of steam as coronavirus toll climbs

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Asian share markets fell on Friday and oil price gains stalled, as the growing death toll and economic damage from the coronavirus outbreak snuffed out a late-week rally.

FILE PHOTO – An investor sits next to a stock quotation board at a brokerage office in Beijing, China January 3, 2020. REUTERS/Jason Lee

U.S. stock futures ESc1 and European futures STXEc1 point to soft openings in Friday.

The death toll in mainland China from the new virus has more than doubled in just under a week.

It rose to 636 on Friday, with the number of infections at 31,161. And in the early hours of the morning one of the first Chinese doctors to raise the alarm about the virus died from it at a hospital in Wuhan, the outbreak’s epicenter. He was 34.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS fell 0.9%. Japan’s Nikkei .N225 edged lower, while Korea’s Kospi .KS11, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng .HSI and the Shanghai Composite .SSEC fell by between 0.5% and 1.2%.

Thanks to a $400 billion wipeout on Monday, Shanghai is poised for its worst week in eight months. But the other Asian indexes are ahead, amid a broad global rally.

It has been underpinned by China’s sweeping efforts to contain the spread of the virus. But with deaths rising, cities shut off, flights canceled and factories closed, global supply chains are in disarray and fears of a pandemic remain high.

“The rate of infection is not slowing,” said Michael McCarthy, chief markets strategist at brokerage CMC Markets in Sydney.

“I’m a little surprised at the way European and U.S. investors have shrugged this off. I think the reaction in the Asia-Pacific region is much more reasonable. There is real uncertainty,” he said.

U.S. stocks gained for a fourth straight session on Thursday and Wall Street’s main indexes hit record highs, while Asian assets – particularly currencies – remain under pressure.

In Asian trade, the yen halted a slide that has it set for its worst week in 18 months, leaving the currency sitting just above a two-week low at 109.89 per dollar.

Gains in the Australian dollar AUD=D3, a liquid proxy for China because of the heavy exposure of Australian exports, were likewise halted.

While the Aussie is on track for its first weekly gain this year, elsewhere in Asia the Singapore dollar SGD= and Thai baht THB= have been trampled in a rush from emerging market currencies into majors.

Several Chinese politicians from President Xi Jinping down made reassuring comments on Friday. But Chinese trade figures due on Friday that are set to offer an early glimpse of the effects of the virus on the flow of goods are yet to be published.

Investors will also turn later to U.S. jobs figures due at 1330 GMT for an update on the United States’ economic health.

COMMODS CAUTIOUS

Much is unknown about the coronavirus, including its lethality and transmission routes. The World Health Organization has said it is too early to call a peak in the outbreak.

China’s aggressive response, dubbed a “people’s war for epidemic prevention” by President Xi, appears to have inspired confidence.

Beijing has pumped billions of dollars into the money market to stabilize confidence and the central bank said on Friday it expects the virus impact to be temporary.

Yet, owing to much greater exposure to Chinese demand and less access to the benefits of monetary stimulus, commodity prices have been more sensitive to conditions on the ground.

Oil and metal prices fell hard as the coronavirus outbreak gained pace and have been slow to recover.

U.S. crude CLc1 was firm on Friday at $51.02 per barrel, but is flat for the week and remains 14% below its Jan. 21 level. Brent prices were last at $55.14 per barrel.

A rally in copper – often seen as a barometer of global economic health because of its wide industrial use – ran out of steam on Friday, softening 0.1% to $5,728 per tonne.

“We think that demand could come back strongly as opposed to gradually in Q2 2020,” said Commonwealth Bank commodities analyst Vivek Dhar.

“But the risk in the near term is that provinces take longer to return to work in order to contain the spread of the virus.”

Additional reporting by Melanie Burton in Melbourne; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Lincoln Feast

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