The death toll in mainland China, from the novel coronavirus, rose to 636, more than doubling in just under a week, with the number of confirmed cases at 31,161.
One of the first Chinese doctors who had raised the alarm about the coronavirus died from the illness at a Wuhan hospital in the early hours of Friday. He was 34.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan eased 0.5% on Friday as lingering concerns over the virus outbreak tempered mood, though it is still up 3.2% for the week.
Japan's Nikkei and Korea's Kospi headed lower in morning trade, but are on track for their best week of the year after earlier rises. The rally in global stocks since Monday’s wipe-out of Chinese equities, and the selldown in bonds, was underpinned by China’s sweeping efforts to contain the spread of the virus.
Beijing has pumped billions of dollars into its money market to stabilize confidence and provide support to its faltering economy. Thursday’s news of Chinese tariff cuts on some US goods had also fired up riskier assets. But with the death toll rising, cities shut off, flights canceled and factories closed, global supply chains are in disarray and fears of a pandemic remain. Chinese stocks also sit well below.
In morning trade, a slide in the safe-haven yen paused, leaving the currency sitting by a two-week low at 109.98 per dollar and poised for its worst weekly loss since last October.
Gains in the Australian dollar, a liquid proxy for China because of the heavy exposure of Australian exports, were likewise halted. It is on track for its first weekly rise this year. Gold hovered at $1,565.76 per ounce.
Chinese goods trade figures due during the morning will be closely watched for an early glimpse of how the virus, and the harsh measures to contain it, are affecting the flow of goods.
Much is unknown about the conronavirus, including its lethality and transmission routes. The World Health Organization has said it is too early to call a peak in the outbreak. Yet China’s aggressive response, dubbed a “people’s war for epidemic prevention" by President Xi Jinping, appears to have inspired confidence.
Back home, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) stepped in to do the heavy lifting to revive the economy, after the Union Budget appeared to have few measures to spur credit growth and boost demand.
To improve credit flow, RBI temporarily removed the cash reserve ratio (CRR)—which requires banks to set aside 4% of their deposits—for every new retail loan made to finance automobiles, homes, and to small businesses. This move, while making it attractive for banks to lend to retail and small businesses, essentially translates into a short-term cut in cash reserve ratio. This scheme will be available for new loans given till 31 July.
French energy giant Total SA has agreed to acquire 50% in Adani Group’s solar assets for $510 million, in one of the biggest transactions in India’s clean energy industry.
Meanwhile, overnight, bonds were sold and markets rallied from Frankfurt to New York. US stocks gained for a fourth straight session and the Wall Street's main indices hit record highs. The S&P 500 rose 0.3%.
Due to much greater exposure to Chinese demand and less access to benefits of monetary stimulus, commodity prices have been much more sensitive to conditions on the ground.
Oil and metal prices fell hard as the coronavirus outbreak gained pace and have been slow to recover.
US crude was firm on Friday at 51.37 per barrel, but is flat for the week and remains 13% below its 21 January level. Brent prices settled at $55.12 per barrel.
A rally in copper - often seen as a barometer of global economic health because of its wide industrial use - ran out of steam on Thursday and closed flat in London at $5,735 a tonne.
(Reuters contributed to the story)