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Stocks Edge Higher With Virus Fallout in Focus: Markets Wrap

Friday 24th January 2020

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U.S. stocks eked out a small advance, dodging the losses that took hold in Europe and Asia, as investors evaluated the risk that a deadly respiratory virus spreading from China could curb global growth. Treasuries climbed and crude oil dropped.

Gains for big tech companies overshadowed losses for makers of consumer goods, providing just enough lift to send the Nasdaq Composite Index toward a record high. Other markets showed greater concern about the potential fallout, with oil sinking to its lowest level since November on speculation the virus could dent demand. Government bonds and the yen rallied as investors sought a haven.

Earlier, China’s Shanghai Composite Index plunged 2.8% on the last trading day before the Lunar New Year holiday, the biggest drop in eight months, as traders considered the virus’s potential impact on travel and shopping.

While corporate earnings have beaten analysts’ estimates this season amid signals that global growth is picking up, investors are cautious with stocks trading at lofty valuations. Fewer than 20 deaths have been tallied from the Chinese virus, and the World Health Organization opted against calling the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern, but traders are hesitant to take on risk on the chance the outbreak could develop into something like the much more devastating SARS respiratory illness that emerged in China 17 years ago.

“There is concern that this may become a much bigger event,” said Quincy Krosby, chief market strategist for Prudential Financial Inc. “The market is vulnerable to a pullback or a consolidation.”

Elsewhere, emerging-market stocks fell to a two-week low. Mining companies led the Stoxx Europe 600 Index lower. The euro weakened after policy makers held interest rates steady and European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde said officials will look into the potential side effects of negative interest rates.

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