Asian markets fall on virus impact fears
Asian markets fell on Thursday following overnight woes on Wall Street as more negative US economic data fuelled worries about the full impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
There had already been a spate of grim economic forecasts this week, with the IMF warning of the worst global downturn in a century, and poor US economic figures released Wednesday further spooked investors.
The woes on Wall Street discouraged traders in Asia, where Tokyo closed down 1.3 percent. Hong Kong fell 0.6 percent, Sydney lost 0.9 percent and Taipei shed 0.7 percent.
Seoul was flat, while Shanghai rose 0.3 percent and Singapore was up 0.7 percent.
The latest numbers from the United States, the world's biggest economy, cast more light on the scale of the damage unleashed by lockdowns and social distancing measures imposed to try and stop the spread of the virus.
US retail sales plunged in March while industrial production in the same month suffered its steepest drop since 1946, data showed Wednesday.
Other reports pointed to weak homebuilder sentiment and manufacturing conditions, while a Federal Reserve report said American economic activity "contracted sharply".
"The economic data was nothing short of disastrous," Ann Miletti of Wells Fargo Asset Management told Bloomberg TV.
"How long can you sustain the shutdown is what's on investors' minds."
President Donald Trump has said that he will on Thursday announce the first plans for lifting lockdowns in the US -- the worst-hit country with the most virus deaths and infections.
The World Health Organization has warned, however, that lifting virus-related restrictions too early could have devastating consequences, with fears of a possible second wave of infections.
"Any recovery in risk sentiment depends on how quickly economies can reopen without risking overloading their healthcare systems and, most of all, not risking any chance of a secondary spread," said Stephen Innes, chief global markets strategist at AxiCorp.
"The risk of escalating economic damage is putting... governments under immense pressure to relax social distancing measures sooner, rather than later."
There was more bad news on oil markets, with the International Energy Agency warning that 2020 was likely to be "the worst year in the history" of the sector.
Oil has plummeted in recent weeks as coronavirus lockdowns depressed demand, and the crisis was made worse by a pricing war between top producers Saudi Arabia and Russia.
Riyadh, Moscow and other producers agreed to an output cut but investors are worried that the dramatic production curbs will not be enough to stabilise the crude market.
Both main contracts staged a slight recovery on Thursday after hitting multi-year lows a day earlier.
Brent Crude was up 0.3 percent, while West Texas Intermediate was up 0.1 percent but still below the $20-a-barrel mark.
Key figures around 0650 GMT
Tokyo - Nikkei 225: DOWN 1.3 percent at 19,290.20 (close)
Hong Kong - Hang Seng: DOWN 0.6 percent at 23,992.23
Shanghai - Composite: UP 0.3 percent at 2,818.35
Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.0902 from $1.0910 at 2040 GMT
Dollar/yen: UP at 107.75 from 107.48
Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2512 from $1.2528
Euro/pound: UP at 87.13 pence from 87.07
West Texas Intermediate: UP 0.1 percent at $19.88 per barrel
Brent North Sea crude: UP 0.3 percent at $27.77 per barrel
New York - Dow: DOWN 1.9 percent at 23,504.35 (close)
London - FTSE 100: DOWN 3.3 percent at 5,597.65 (close)
© Agence France-Presse
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