January 31, 2020 / 8:29 AM / 18 days ago

Hong Kong shares fall to near two-month low on coronavirus fears

HONG KONG, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Hong Kong stocks erased morning session gains and ended lower on Friday, dragged down by healthcare and energy. However, bargain-hunting emerged in consumer stocks which were battered by a recent selloff amid fears of the coronavirus outbreak in China.

** The Hang Seng Index closed down 0.5% at 26,312.63 points, the lowest since Dec. 5, ending the three-session trading week 5.9% lower. The China Enterprises Index dropped 0.8% to 10,240.51 points.

** In money markets, Hong Kong’s offshore yuan overnight rate rose to 4.9355, its highest since October 2018, reflecting tight supply of Hong Kong dollars and yuan. ** “Markets are afraid of possible disruption in both Hong Kong and Chinese financial markets, especially if there is any possibility of the Chinese government extending the holiday for banks,” said Ken Cheung, chief Asian FX strategist at Mizuho Bank in Hong Kong, adding banks would like to keep more cash in their accounts to avoid any such risk.

** Fears of the spreading coronavirus have knocked global stock markets over the past week. Transport, tourism, retail and luxury stocks have been at the frontline.

** The Hong Kong Monetary Authority said around 20-30% of bank branches are expected to be closed temporarily and some of the remaining branches will be open for restricted hours, as part of measures to counter the spread of the virus. ** Hong Kong private home prices eased again in December, declining 1.7%, weighed down by a gloomy economic outlook.

** In China, growth in factory activity faltered in January as export orders fell and the coronavirus added to risks.

** A Chinese international trade promotion agency said it would offer force majeure certificates to companies struggling to cope with the impact of the coronavirus epidemic on their business with overseas partners.

** The United States warned Americans not to travel to China as the death toll from the virus reached 213 and the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global health emergency. An increasing number of airlines suspended flights to China.

** A number of recently stress-tested Chinese banks could require sizable recapitalisations, rating agency S&P said, singling out three - Bohai Bank, China Zheshang Bank, and Shengjing Bank - as potentially under pressure.

** Asian share markets fought to regain their footing as investors clutched at hopes China could contain the coronavirus, even as headlines spoke of more cases, mounting deaths, flight suspensions and production pauses at factories.

** In Hong Kong, healthcare stocks dropped 1.6% while energy stocks lost 1.5%. Cyclical consumer counters inched up 0.4%.

** The top gainer on the Hang Seng was Sands China, up 1.6%. The biggest loser was China Petroleum & Chemical Crop , which fell 2.4%. ** The top mover among H-shares was ANTA Sports Products , gaining 1.1%, while the biggest H-share percentage decliner was China Resources Gas, falling 3.1%.

Reporting by the Hong Kong Newsroom; editing by Nick Macfie

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