A worker cleans up an electronic stock board of a securities firm in Tokyo, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. Asian stock markets have tumbled as concern about the impact of a Chinese disease outbreak on tourism and regional economies grows. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

US stocks slip following Asian sell-off on virus fears

January 21, 2020 - 10:06 am

U.S. stocks slipped Tuesday in the first trading day of a holiday-shortened week, following up on losses around the world as worries deepened about a virus outbreak in China.

Asian stocks dropped sharply, while European markets and crude oil also stumbled on concerns that the new coronavirus spreading in the world’s second-largest economy could hurt tourism and ultimately economic growth and corporate profits. Six people have died, and 291 have been infected in China, just as people in the country were preparing to make billions of trips for the Lunar New Year travel season.

Investors are looking at playbooks for past outbreaks, such as SARS in 2002-2003, where airlines, railways and other transportation companies saw their stocks slide the most, followed by retailers and hospitality companies, according to strategists at Jefferies.

Within the S&P 500, stocks of U.S. companies that cater to Chinese tourists had the biggest losses, along with general travel companies, such as casinos and airlines.

Tuesday’s drop for the index follows a strong run, which had sent the S&P 500 to records. Fears of a possible recession have faded, and investors expect the Federal Reserve to keep interest rates low, and the S&P 500 has risen in 13 of the last 15 weeks.

U.S. companies are in the midst of reporting their earnings results for the last three months of 2019, and early indications are encouraging. Less than a tenth of S&P 500 companies have reported their results so far, but of them, 72% topped analysts’ forecasts for profits. Those forecasts were low, to be sure, with analysts saying S&P 500 profits fell last quarter for the fourth consecutive time, according to FactSet.

KEEPING SCORE: The S&P 500 was down 0.2%, as of 9:50 a.m. Eastern time.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped 34 points, or 0.1%, to 29,314, and the Nasdaq composite was down 0.1%.

CHILL IN CHINA: China confirmed many people’s fears late Monday when a government expert said that the new type of coronavirus affecting the country can transmit from human to human, increasing its potential spread.

The outbreak “is developing into a major potential economic risk to the Asia-Pacific region,” said Rajiv Biswas of IHS Markit in a report.

Biswas pointed to the example of the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, whose economic impact was felt as far away as Canada and Australia.

ASIAN SELL-OFF: The Hang Seng index in Hong Kong dropped 2.8%, and stocks in Shanghai lost 1.4%. Other Asian markets also slumped, including a 1% fall for South Korea’s Kospi and a 0.9% decline for Japan’s Nikkei 225.

Japan’s central bank raised its forecast for economic growth while affirming its commitment to stimulus for the economy.

European markets also fell, though the losses were more modest. The FTSE 100 in London dropped 0.8%, France’s CAC 40 fell 0.7% and Germany’s DAX lost 0.1%.

US IMPACT: Las Vegas Sands fell 6.2%, and Wynn Resorts fell 5.3% for two of the largest losses in the S&P 500. Both get most of their revenue from Macau on China’s southern coast.

Other travel companies also slumped on worries that customers may stay away. United Airlines Holdings fell 3.1%, Expedia Group lost 2.4% and Norwegian Cruise Lines fell 2.4%.

YIELDS: The yield on the 10-year Treasury note slumped to 1.78% from 1.83% late Friday.

COMMODITIES: Benchmark U.S. crude fell 29 cents to $58.29. Brent crude, the international standard, dropped 46 cents to $64.74.

Gold lost $11.20 to $1,594.10 per ounce.

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AP Business Writer Joe McDonald contributed.

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