Stocks in Asia declined in Friday morning trade as fears over the spread of the coronavirus globally drove investors to safety.
Japanese stocks led losses among major markets regionally as the Nikkei 225 dropped 3.28% while the Topix index fell 3.03%.
Data on Friday showed retail sales in Japan declining 0.4% year-on-year in January. That compared against a median market forecast for a 1.1% decline, according to Reuters.
Mainland China stocks also tumbled in early trade, with the Shanghai composite down more than 1% and the Shenzhen component 2.08% lower. The Shenzhen composite slipped 2.067%. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index also dropped 2.2%.
Overall, the MSCI Asia ex-Japan index dropped 1.54% lower.
The rapid spread of the coronavirus outside of China, where the disease was first reported, has weighed on sentiment in recent days over its potential impact on economic growth and corporate earnings. In South Korea, more than 1,700 cases of infection have been confirmed, while over 600 people have contracted the virus in Italy so far.
Overnight on Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged 1,190.95 points — its largest one-day point decline in history — to close at 25,766.64. The S&P 500 slid 4.4% to end its trading day at 2,978.76 while the Nasdaq Composite dropped 4.6% to close at 8,566.48. The Dow had its worst day since February 2018 while the Nasdaq and S&P 500 posted its biggest one-day loss since August 2011.
Thursday’s losses put the Dow, S&P 500 and Nasdaq in correction territory, which is defined on Wall Street as down more than 10% from their recent highs.
The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was last at 98.436 after dropping from levels around 99.0 yesterday.
“Many of our clients are asking why the dollar relinquished its safe haven status and it all boils down to the fear that the US will be next to experience a sudden increase in coronavirus cases,” Kathy Lien, managing director of foreign exchange strategy at BK Asset Management, wrote in a note dated Feb 27.
The Japanese yen, often viewed as a safe-haven currency in times of economic uncertainty, changed hands at 109.38 per dollar after seeing levels above 111.2 earlier in the trading week. The Australian dollar was at $0.6565 after rising from about $0.655 yesterday.
— CNBC’s Fred Imbert contributed to this report.