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Asia stocks extend global rout on coronavirus fears

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Tokyo (AFP)

Stocks in Asia sank at the open on Thursday, extending a global rout as fears intensify over the spread of the new coronavirus, now dubbed a pandemic by the World Health Organisation .

As the economic impact of the COVID-19 outbreak grows, markets worldwide are in free-fall and companies are sounding the alarm.

It was a sea of red for Asian markets at the open, with Tokyo's benchmark Nikkei 225 index down 2.24 percent to 18,980.22 and the broader Topix index falling 2.42 percent to 1,351.61.

Australia's ASX was down 2.6 percent an hour into trade, with New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 down nearly three percent in early afternoon trade. South Korea's KOSPI was down 1.22 percent in early trade.

The jitters followed another brutal session on the US markets, with wave after wave of bad news, including Hilton withdrawing its earnings forecast and Boeing saying it would suspend most hiring and overtime pay.

The coronavirus outbreak has left virtually no sector untouched, though travel and tourism have been particularly hard-hit as countries institute travel bans and quarantine requirements.

The Dow Jones Industrial Index plunged around 1,465 points, or 5.9 percent, to 23,553.22 on Wednesday, in a bruising session that left the index more than 20 percent below its peak, making it a bear market.

Leading stock markets in Europe also retreated, including the FTSE 100 which dropped 1.4 percent despite the Bank of England slashing its key interest rate to a record low and the government pledging $39 billion of fiscal stimulus.

Analysts said markets were struggling under the weight of twin crises: the burgeoning coronavirus outbreak and an oil price war.

Oil prices slid further on Thursday morning, with Brent crude at $35.72 a barrel, after Saudi Arabia and Gulf partner UAE stepped up a price war with plans to flood the global markets.

The move is the latest escalation of a fight among oil producers after Russia balked at an OPEC-backed plan to cut production in response to lost demand from the coronavirus.

"The virus itself continues to spread in Europe and the US, meaning more extensive containment measures are likely, which will weigh further on global growth," wrote Tapas Strickland, senior analyst at National Australia Bank.

"Markets are crying out for a co-ordinated response to COVID-19 headwinds and a lack of concrete US policy action is rattling markets," he said.

Investors were expected to closely monitor an address to the nation by US President Donald Trump, scheduled for 0100GMT, but it was not immediately clear if financial support offered by his administration would be enough to calm the markets.

"The market is faced with two highly uncertain bearish shocks in the form of an unholy COVID-19 economic catastrophe in Italy, and most of Europe, compounded by a dizzying oil price downdraft," wrote Stephen Innes, chief market strategist at AxiCorp

"Nothing is immune from this insidious virus. Still, the market may not be yet pricing in a worst-case scenario from this double whammy risk beat-down," he warned.

On the currency markets, the dollar fetched 104.57 yen in early Asian trade, against 104.54 yen in New York late Wednesday.

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