HK stocks fall most in 4 weeks as global virus spread widens

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Feb 24 (Reuters) – Hong Kong stocks fell the most in four weeks on Monday, as a spike in coronavirus infections and deaths beyond mainland China eclipsed Beijing’s assurance to step up efforts to help cushion the blow to its economy.

** The Hang Seng index fell 1.8%, to 26,820.88, while the China Enterprises Index lost 2.1%, to 10,568.33. ** Investor confidence took a hit after South Korea put the country on high alert as the number of infections jumped to over 700 and deaths rose to seven. In Italy, the number of cases jumped to above 150 from just three before Friday. ** Iran, which announced its first infection last week, said it had confirmed 43 cases and eight deaths. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Turkey and Afghanistan imposed travel and immigration restrictions on the Islamic Republic. ** Market sentiment was hurt as the coronavirus outbreak spread outside China, said Linus Yip, an analyst with First Shanghai Securities. ** U.S. and China stock markets giving up some of their recent strong gains could have also increased pressure on the Hong Kong market, he added. ** China will step up policy adjustments to help cushion the blow to the economy from the coronavirus outbreak that authorities are still trying to control, President Xi Jinping was quoted as saying on Sunday. ** The central bank will take further steps to support the virus-hit economy, including releasing more liquidity and lowering funding costs for companies, a vice governor of the bank told state media.

** The sub-index of the Hang Seng tracking energy shares dipped 3.1%, while the IT sector dropped 2.6%, the financial sector ended 1.7% lower and the property sector slid 1.4%.

** The top gainer on the Hang Seng was Power Assets Holdings Ltd , which climbed 1.68%, while the biggest loser was PetroChina Co Ltd, which fell 4.73%.

** Around the region, MSCI’s Asia ex-Japan stock index was weaker by 2.16%, while Japan’s Nikkei index closed down 0.39%.

** The top gainers among H-shares were China Tower Corp Ltd , up 6.52%, followed by China Resources Gas Group Ltd , gaining 0.49%, and ENN Energy Holdings Ltd, up by 0.55%.

** The three biggest H-shares percentage decliners were BYD Co Ltd, which was down 6.18%, ANTA Sports Products Ltd , which fell 5.29%, and PetroChina Co Ltd, down by 4.73%. (Reporting by the Shanghai Newsroom; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu)

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