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Stocks, oil prices slide as virus sweeps globe

Stock markets and oil prices slid again Wednesday, as major companies began to count the financial cost of the spreading coronavirus.

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Heavy selling followed another rout Tuesday on Wall Street where all three main indices lost around three percent after officials said COVID-19 would likely take hold in the United States.

With cases being reported in more countries — and lockdowns in nations including Austria, Italy and Spain — traders are growing increasingly fearful about the impact on the global economy.

“Markets continue to retreat as the coronavirus dominates headlines,” said IG trading group analyst Chris Beauchamp.

London’s benchmark FTSE 100 index dropped below 7,000 points, erasing all gains won over the past year, while oil prices slid to the lowest levels in more than a year.

British drinks group Diageo, the maker of Guinness stout and Smirnoff vodka, on Wednesday said the coronavirus would slash its annual sales by up to £325 million ($422 million, 388 million euros).

Diageo, which produces also Baileys liqueur and Johnnie Walker whisky, said sales for the group’s financial year ending June 30 would be impacted by between £225 million and £325 million.

French food giant Danone said it expected to take a hit of 100 million euros ($109 million) in first-quarter sales.

“What we appear to be seeing is the realisation that global economic growth could well come to a halt as the combined effects of a flu virus and belated attempts to stem the spread of it across the globe, raise the prospect of an economic sneeze,” said CMC Markets UK analyst Michael Hewson.

The death toll is now at more than 2,700, while the number of infected is approaching 80,000, even if new cases in China, the epicentre, are falling.

With panicked investors seeking out safe havens, the yield on both 10-year and 30-year US Treasury bills are at record lows, while the Japanese yen is gaining.

However, the dollar was being kept in check by speculation that the Federal Reserve could cut interest rates to support markets, although for now officials are saying the US economy remains in rude health.

The VIX “fear” index is at its highest level in more than a year, but gold, usually a main target for those seeking shelter from the turmoil, was subdued.

“To suggest the market is a tad skittish over the coronavirus becoming a pandemic could very well be the understatement of the century with the virus morphing into the market’s biggest macro worry of the decade,” said AxiCorp’s Stephen Innes.

However, Gorilla Trades strategist Ken Berman said that “in light of the quick spreading of the virus, the global economy is likely to suffer, at least, a short-term shock, but should the outbreak slow down during the spring, we could see a swift economic recovery.”

– Key figures around 1130 GMT –

London – FTSE 100: DOWN 0.6 percent at 6,979.48 points

Frankfurt – DAX 30: DOWN 1.1 percent at 12,644.23

Paris – CAC 40: DOWN 0.8 percent at 5,634.99

EURO STOXX 50: DOWN 0.9 percent at 3,540.87

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.8 percent at 22,426.19 (close)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: DOWN 0.7 percent at 26,696.49 (close)

Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 0.8 percent at 2,987.93 (close)

New York – Dow: DOWN 3.2 percent at 27,081.36 (close)

Dollar/yen: UP at 110.39 from 110.20 at 2200 GMT

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.0877 from $1.0882

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2928 from $1.3005

Euro/pound: UP at 84.12 pence from 83.67 pence

Brent Crude: DOWN 1.5 percent at $54.15 per barrel

West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 0.9 percent at $49.46

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