Asian Shares Rise Despite Continuing Virus Fears

TOKYO (AP) -
A man walks past an electronic board showing the Hong Kong share index outside a local bank in Hong Kong, Wednesday. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

Asian shares were higher Wednesday, although the outbreak of a new virus in the region continued to weigh on investor sentiments.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 rose 0.7% to finish at 23,861.21. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.5% to 7,088.20. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng added 1.1% to 27,875.56, while the Shanghai Composite rose 0.9% to 2,926.90.

“Despite coronavirus concerns, investors tend to believe that central banks and policymakers have measures to stimulate the economy during and post the public health crisis,” said CMC Markets in a report.

China reported 97 more deaths from the new disease, named COVID-19, pushing the total dead past 1,100, even as the country remained largely closed down to prevent its spread. The number of cases worldwide is about 45,000, all but a few hundred in China.

Investor sentiments in Asia were also cheered somewhat by Wall Street, where modest gains overnight nudged the S&P 500 and Nasdaq to all-time highs for the second straight day. The Dow Jones Industrial Average finished essentially flat.

Investors weighed another batch of mostly solid company earnings reports. Sprint soared after a federal judge cleared a major obstacle to the company being acquired by T-Mobile. Cruise operators, hotels and other companies that focus on travel made solid gains, the latest sign that traders are feeling less worried about the economic impact of the virus outbreak.

“Stocks are collectively saying, ‘Hey, maybe we can work past some of the noise with the virus; maybe the fallout won’t be as big as we thought,'” said Willie Delwiche, investment strategist at Baird. “And the U.S. economy, so far at least, looks like it’s weathering it pretty well.”

The S&P 500 index rose 5.66 points, or 0.2%, to 3,357.75. The Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped 0.48 points, or less than 0.1%, to 29,276.34. It had been up 0.5%.

The Nasdaq composite gained 10.55 points, or 0.1%, to 9,638.94. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks picked up 9.85 points, or 0.6%, to 1,677.51.

After a downbeat January, U.S. stocks have been mostly notching gains this month as traders brush off fears about the virus outbreak and its impact on businesses and the global economy. Beijing has promised to take measures to soften the blow to China’s economy and investors are hopeful that other governments will do the same if necessary.

Travel-related stocks, which have been hammered by traders in recent weeks, notched gains Tuesday. Hilton Worldwide rose 1.4%, Carnival climbed 2.8% and American Airlines gained 3.6%.

Wall Street got some encouragement Tuesday from Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell. In his semiannual monetary report to Congress, Powell said it was too early to assess the threat the virus poses to the U.S. economy, but he noted that the economy “is in a very good place” with strong job creation and moderate growth.