Asian Shares Advance As Virus Worries Ebb

Asian stocks advanced on Wednesday as anxiety ebbed over the spread of a deadly virus in mainland China and Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell told Congress that the U.S. economy is in a good place, despite the potential threat from the coronavirus outbreak in China.

Chinese stocks rose for the seventh straight day as virus worries waned. The benchmark Shanghai Composite index climbed 25.22 points, or 0.9 percent, to 2,926.90 after officials reported the lowest daily increase in coronavirus infection cases in nearly two weeks, calming investor nerves over the epidemic’s economic impact. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index ended 0.9 percent higher at 27,823.66.

Japanese shares gained ground as a positive mood prevailed across global markets despite lingering concerns about the coronavirus outbreak. The Nikkei 225 Index climbed 175.23 points, or 0.7 percent, to 23,861.21, while the broader Topix finished marginally lower at 1,718.92.

Heavyweight SoftBank Group Corp soared 11.9 percent to become the country’s second-biggest company by market value after a U.S. federal judge approved a merger between its U.S. wireless unit Sprint Corp. and T-Mobile U.S. Inc.

Taiko Pharmaceutical Co. jumped 18.2 percent after the drug maker raised its operating profit forecast for the year ending in March. Tech stocks also posted strong gains, with Advantest surging 4.3 percent and Tokyo Electron adding 3.5 percent.

Meanwhile, Nissan Motor dropped 1.7 percent after temporarily halting production at its plant in Kyushu, southwestern Japan, due to a shortage of parts from China.

Australian markets advanced after positive offshore leads. The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index rose 32.90 points, or 0.5 percent, to 7,088.20, while the broader All Ordinaries Index ended up 33.90 points, or 0.5 percent, at 7,185.30.

Lender Commonwealth Bank of Australia surged 4.1 percent after its half-year cash profit topped forecasts.

CSL shares advanced 0.8 percent. After reporting an 11 percent increase in first-half net profit, the biotech company raised its full-year profit outlook and interim dividend.

Online vehicle sales company rallied 8.3 percent after its statutory net profit for the half-year surged more than five-fold.

On the other hand, health supplements firm Blackmores slumped 12.8 percent as the company scrapped its dividend and warned that this year’s profit will more than halve because of adverse costs and the coronavirus outbreak.

Australia’s consumer confidence advanced in February but sentiment remained weak overall, survey data from Westpac showed today.

South Korea’s Kospi rose 15.26 points, or 0.7 percent, to 2,238.38 after Fitch Ratings affirmed the country’s sovereign ratings with a ‘stable’ outlook.

The agency said the 2020 budget, enacted in December, implemented significant fiscal stimulus to confront sluggish growth prospects. Korea also has the fiscal space to utilize near-term fiscal stimulus, Fitch said.

New Zealand shares advanced as the country’s central bank left its official cash rate unchanged at a record low of 1.00 percent but suggested the coronavirus outbreak was “a downside risk” to the domestic economy. The benchmark NZX-50 Index gained 0.5 percent to close at 11,898.24.

U.S. stocks edged up slightly overnight after a top Chinese health adviser said the coronavirus outbreak may be peaking and infections may be over by April.

Recent strong earnings announcements and economic data as well as fairly upbeat comments by Fed Chair Jerome Powell also offered some support.

The Dow ended flat with a negative bias, while the S&P 500 inched up 0.2 percent and the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite rose 0.1 percent to reach fresh record closing highs.

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