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Assets battered as China virus fears mount; rand hits one-month low

Rand weakens as IMF cuts growth forecasts.
MSCI's EM stocks index set for worst day since August 26. Image: Bloomberg

Emerging market stocks and currencies took a beating on Tuesday as investors turned risk-averse on growing concerns over the coronavirus outbreak in China, while South Africa’s rand hit a one-month low on a weak economic outlook.

Market players across the globe were spooked after China reported a fourth death from the flu-like virus on Tuesday as the number of cases continued to rise and China confirmed the new virus could be spread through human contact.

Read: IMF trims global economic outlook, but tones down risk warnings

A basket of emerging market stocks fell 1.3%, putting it on course for its biggest one-day percentage decline in nearly five months.

“The headlines around the virus outbreak in China is the one factor that has been affecting the larger equity market bulls today, particularly more for stocks than currencies,” said William Jackson, chief emerging markets economist at Capital Economics in London.

China’s stocks fell to two-week lows, leading losses among Asian equity markets, while the onshore Chinese yuan also slipped.

MSCI’s index of emerging market currencies shed 0.5%, with the South African rand leading declines.

The currency touched its lowest level since December 12, as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Monday lowered its growth forecasts for the South African economy in 2020 and 2021, citing structural constraints and deteriorating public finances.

“Fiscal possession in South Africa looks particularly fragile especially after the government started to make upward revisions to debt projections late last year,” Jackson said.

Africa’s most industrialised economy is growing at a snail’s pace, with power supply interruptions from struggling state utility Eskom contributing to low business confidence.

In Russia, investors are expecting a new cabinet to be named later on Tuesday after the government resigned last week. The rouble traded 0.5% weaker to 61.8875 against the dollar.

Currencies in parts of central and eastern Europe also fell, with Hungary’s forint, Poland’s zloty and the Czech crown easing against the euro.

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