Adding to concerns, the outbreak coincides with the annual travel of hundreds of millions of Chinese for the Lunar New Year festival, which begins Friday. In Europe, the CAC 40 in Paris lost 0.1% to 6,003 while Germany's DAX slipped 0.5% to 13,454. Britain's FTSE 100 gave up 0.4% to 7,544. Wall Street futures edged lower, with the contract for the S&P 500 down 0.1% and that for the Dow Jones Industrial Average falling 0.2%.
In Asia, early gains were erased midsession, with Chinese benchmarks leading losses. The coronavirus has been confirmed in five countries, including China, the U.S., Thailand, Japan and South Korea. So far, China has confirmed more than 500 people have fallen sick and 17 have died from the illness, which can cause pneumonia and other severe respiratory symptoms.
A World Health Organization committee was scheduled to meet for a second day Thursday as it decides whether to declare China's virus outbreak a global health emergency. Japan's Nikkei 225 index skidded 1% to 23,795.44, while the Kospi in South Korea sank 0.9% to 2,246.13. In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng dropped 1.5% to 27,909.12, while the Shanghai Composite index declined 2.8% to 2,976.53. Australia's S&P ASX/200 shed 0.6% to 7,088.00. Shares rose in India and Jakarta but fell in Taiwan and Singapore.
“As far as the market is concerned, the current reaction remains mild and perhaps rightly so given the difficulty to estimate the impact of an evolving syndrome," Jingyi Pan of IG said in a commentary. By postponing a decision on whether the virus is a global health emergency, the WHO helped assuage some fears the crisis is escalating, she said.
In other news, Japan reported Thursday that its trade balance was negative in 2019 for a second straight year, as China-U.S. trade tensions and friction with neighboring South Korea bit into exports.
Benchmark crude oil fell $1.03 to $55.71 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It lost $1.64 to settle at $56.74 a barrel on Wednesday. Brent crude oil, the international standard, gave up $1.02 as well, to $62.19 per barrel. It slid $1.38 to close at $63.21 a barrel overnight.
The dollar fell to 109.54 Japanese yen from 109.83 yen on Wednesday. The euro weakened to $1.1091 from $1.1097.