NEW YORK (Reuters) - Risk assets took a hit across the globe on Tuesday while the Japanese yen and U.S. Treasury prices gained as financial markets reacted to mounting concern about a new strain of flu-like virus in China.
The World Health Organization called a meeting for Wednesday to consider declaring a global health emergency while authorities in China confirmed the coronavirus could spread through human contact. The mayor of Wuhan, where the virus may have originated, confirmed a sixth virus-related death.
Investors worried about the threat of contagion as hundreds of millions travel for the Chinese Lunar New Year holidays, which peak over the coming weekend. Traders recalled the fallout from a Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2002-2003 that killed about 800 people globally and which China initially covered up.
Hong Kong, which suffered badly during the SARS outbreak, saw its index .HSI fall 2.8%.
The overnight chill in Asia carried over to European markets. Shares of luxury goods makers - which have large exposure to China - were among those declining the most.
The virus outbreak “seems to be the biggest negative,” said Scott Brown, chief economist at Raymond James in St. Petersburg, Florida. “We may see U.S. markets try to spit it out because it doesn’t have that much of an impact on U.S. economy.”
The Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI fell 20.99 points, or 0.07%, to 29,327.11, the S&P 500 .SPX lost 1.13 points, or 0.03%, to 3,328.49 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC added 1.12 points, or 0.01%, to 9,390.06.
In other markets, U.S.- and German 10-year government bond yields touched a two week low while the safe-haven yen JPY= strengthened 0.23% versus the dollar at 109.95.
“The fear is that it could be a SARS-type event, which was an economic issue,” said Ellis Phifer, market strategist at Raymond James in Tennessee. “But this is all cautionary. The market is not panicking or anything.”
Benchmark 10-year notes US10YT=RR last rose 16/32 in price to yield 1.7795%, from 1.835% late on Friday. Monday was a U.S. market holiday.
Sterling GBP= was last trading at $1.3051, up 0.32% on the day.
The Australian dollar AUD= dropped on the flu worries since the country attracts large numbers of Chinese tourists, who tend to be big spenders over the Lunar New Year holidays.
Some investors were relieved that U.S. President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron seemed to have struck a truce over a proposed digital tax. They agreed to hold off on a potential tariffs war until the end of the year, a French diplomatic source said.
A tariff war between China and the United States was blamed for the economic growth slowdown of last year.
U.S. gold futures GCc1 fell 0.22% to $1,555.40 an ounce.
Oil prices were mixed on expectations that a well-supplied market would be able to absorb disruptions that have cut Libya’s crude production to a trickle.
Reporting by Rodrigo Campos, Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss and Karen Brettell in New York, Sruthi Shankar in Bengaluru and Ahmad Ghaddar in London; Editing by David Gregorio and Nick Zieminski
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.