Australia stocks stage dramatic comeback as Asia markets trade wildly

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Stocks in Asia Pacific traded wildly on Friday after shares of Wall Street saw a historic drop overnight, as fears over the global coronavirus outbreak continued to weigh on investor sentiment.

In Australia, shares recovered from earlier losses and made a dramatic comeback, with the S&P/ASX 200 closing 4.42% higher at 5,539.30 – after falling more than 8% at its lows during the session. Still, the index remained in bear market territory – more than 20% off its 52-week closing high – which it fell into on Wednesday.

Over in India, the Nifty 50 rose into positive territory as it jumped 2.15%. Earlier, trading on the index was suspended temporarily after the index fell to 10% from the previous day’s close and triggered what’s commonly referred to as a ” circuit breaker” – which is aimed at preventing markets from crashing.

In Thailand, the SET composite index was last declining 0.98% after it making a brief turnaround earlier. In the morning, the Stock Exchange of Thailand said trading of all securities was temporarily halted after the SET composite index dropped 10% and hit the circuit breaker.

In Japan, the Nikkei 225 fell 6.08% to close at 17,431.05 after earlier plunging 10% during the session. The moves followed its Thursday close in bear market territory at 18,559.63 – more than 20% off its 52-week closing high. The Topix index dived 4.98% to end its trading day at 1,261.70.

Meanwhile, South Korea’s Kospi dropped 3.43% to close at 1,771.44 while the Kosdaq index fell 7.01% to end its trading day at 524. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index declined 1.49%.

Mainland Chinese stocks saw losses on the day, with the Shanghai composite down 1.23% to about 2,887.43 while the Shenzhen component was 1% lower at 10,831.13. The Shenzhen composite also fell 1.076% to around 1,798.98.

Elsewhere, the Straits Times Index in Singapore was 2.42% lower in afternoon trade while Malaysia’s FTSE Bursa Malaysia KLCI Index dropped 4.42%. The Jakarta Composite in Indonesia also fell 2.4%.

Overall, the MSCI Asia ex-Japan index slipped 0.85%.

“The world’s financial system has become dislocated,” Kim Mundy, currency strategist at Commonwealth Bank of Australia, wrote in a note. “Underlying the big moves is a lack of confidence governments have the right plan to contain the health and economic impacts of the coronavirus.”

“While investors are looking for immediate remedies from governments and central banks, the virus spread has far outpaced the typical reaction time by governments in devising new policies to deal with a largely unprecedented economic and sociacl event,” J.P. Morgan Asset Management’s Tai Hui wrote in a note. “Government bureaucracy simply has not kept pace with the nature of the outbreak and market expectations.”

“Investors may be asking, is it time to get back into stocks? Market sentiment will remain jittery in the near term as the COVID-19 outbreak continues to accelerate in the US and Europe,” said Tai, who is chief Asia market strategist. “As we have experienced in China and other parts of Asia, the right policies to contain the outbreak should work but this involves some sharp, short term pain. We are likely to go through such pain in the weeks ahead in the US and Europe.”

Airline stocks dive

Shares of airlines regionally saw steep losses on Friday, with Australia’s Qantas Airways diving 12.64%. Japan’s ANA Holdings and Japan Airlines plunged 7.59% and 12.51%, respectively. Korean Air Lines in South Korea also slipped 5.07%.

Currencies and oil

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was last at 97.406 after an earlier high of 97.743.

The Japanese yen traded at 105.44 per dollar after weakening from an earlier high of 104.48. The Australian dollar changed hands at $0.6288 following a decline from levels above $0.64 yesterday.

Oil prices jumped in the afternoon of Asian trading hours, with international benchmark Brent crude futures up 2.95% to $34.20 per barrel. U.S. crude futures advanced 2.98% to $32.44 per barrel.

Overnight on Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed 2,352.60 points lower at 21,200.62 – its worst drop since the 1987 “Black Monday” market crash, when it collapsed by more than 22%. The S&P 500 also had its worst day since 1987, plunging 9.5% to close at 2,480.64, joining the Dow in a bear market. The Nasdaq Composite ended its trading day 9.4% lower at 7,201.80.

Amid the market washout stateside, the U.S. Federal Reserve announced Thursday new moves to pump in more than $1 trillion into the financial system in an effort to combat potential freezes brought on by the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, the European Central Bank surprised expectations by announcing Thursday that it was not cutting rates. The central bank did, however, announce measures to support bank lending and expanded its asset purchase program by 120 billion euros ($135.28 billion).

– CNBC’s Fred Imbert, Thomas Franck, Jeff Cox and Silvia Amaro contributed to this report.