Stocks slid in Hong Kong as trading reopened Wednesday after the Lunar New Year break, although equities were off their lows as investors sought to gauge the widening impact of the coronavirus on China’s economy.
The Hang Seng Index fell as much as 3 percent Wednesday on the first day of trading after the Lunar New Year. Though that was briefly its worst slide on a closing basis since October 2018, the index steadied to end the day 2.8 percent lower - matching its loss from Jan 21. Meanwhile, the offshore yuan strengthened 0.1 percent to 6.9587 per dollar.
While the stock declines were steep - especially for landlords, travel firms and casinos - they were by no means unusual for a market that’s been walloped by trade tensions and protests stemming from the extradition bill incident in the past year. Before today, the Hang Seng Index had on 20 occasions closed at least 1.5 percent lower since the start of 2019, compared to just 10 times for the S&P 500 Index. A 6.5 percent loss in FTSE China A50 Index futures since Friday had also set traders up for a more painful reopen.
Traders said higher-than-average volume helped limit volatility, despite trading links with onshore markets being shut due to the extended holiday on the Chinese mainland. It marked the first time since Friday morning that the city’s traders could catch up with the risk-off sentiment that has dominated global markets. For some, that meant buying stocks on the cheap on speculation that the economic impact from the virus outbreak will be contained. For others, that’s still a dangerous bet to make.
“It shows that there is still a group of investors who might be more optimistic,” said Kenny Wen, wealth management strategist at Everbright Sun Hung Kai Co.
Losses were also capped by a rebound in US markets overnight, which helped stoke a 1.3 percent gain in FTSE China A50 Index futures. Hong Kong traders had been off their desks since before reported cases of the novel coronavirus surged globally. Mainland markets won’t reopen until next week.
Travel and consumer-related stocks were among the worst hit as trading reopened on Wednesday after the Lunar New Year holiday
“The unpredictability part is the key source of stress in the market,” said Tommy Xie, an economist at Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp. “The next few days to early February will be critical. If we are able to keep cases outside Hubei province low, this means the city lockdown works and may help alleviate the concern.”
Travel and consumer-related stocks were among the worst hit on Wednesday as people on the mainland stay at home during what is usually a peak spending period. Macao casinos Galaxy Entertainment Group and Sands China Ltd fell at least 5 percent after the central government said it will stop issuing travel permits for mainland citizens to visit the special administrative region. Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd and China Southern Airlines Co lost at least 3 percent, while Alibaba Pictures Group Ltd slumped 9.5 percent as cinemas closed across the mainland.
Tencent Holdings Ltd, which offers online gaming, was seen as a haven, with the shares rising 0.7 percent. Meituan Dianping, which offers food delivery services, also added 0.7 percent.
Financial markets on the mainland will reopen on Monday after the central government extended the Lunar New Year holidays on the mainland.
China pledged to provide abundant liquidity for money markets and urged investors to evaluate the impact of the coronavirus objectively.
Along with stocks, the People’s Bank of China confirmed that interbank, bond, bill, gold and currency markets will reopen Feb 3.
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