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What to Watch: Markets dive on virus fears, Black Friday boost for Asos, and VW fine

Oscar Williams-Grut
·Senior City Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
HONG KONG, CHINA - JANUARY 23: Health care members make first aid to people at an ambulance as they cover their faces with sanitary masks after the first cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in Hong Kong, China on January 23, 2020. On 22nd of January, China officially announced the Wuhan's virus outbreak can be transmitted human-to-human and implemented a public transportation and airport lockdown to slow down the spread of the virus. (Photo by Miguel Candela Poblacion/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Shares sold-off on Thursday after China moved to ban travel from the city at the heart of the Coronavirus outbreak. Photo: Miguel Candela Poblacion/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Here are the top business, market, and economic stories you should be watching today in the UK, Europe, and abroad:

Stocks slip on Coronavirus fears

Shares sold-off on Thursday after China moved to ban travel from the city at the heart of the Coronavirus outbreak.

Chinese authorities have blocked travel from Wuhan, the centre of the new SARS-like virus. The move came as the death toll from the rapidly spreading virus rose to 17.

“Risk aversion has returned to Asian markets this morning due to renewed concerns about the virus with Chinese bourses leading the declines,” Deutsche Bank strategist Jim Reid wrote.

The Hong Kong Hang Seng (^HSI) closed down 1.6%, the Shanghai Composite (000001.SS) in China was down 1.4%, and Japan’s Nikkei (^N255) closed down 0.9%.

The chief investment office at UBS wealth management said in a note Thursday: “We view the knee-jerk reaction as a tactical buying opportunity, though sentiment will likely stay depressed in the near term for sectors like airlines, tourism and select consumption-related industries.”

European markets were also marginally lower. The FTSE 100 (^FTSE) shed 0.1%, the DAX (^GDAXI) lost 0.5%, and the CAC 40 (^FCHI) in France was down by 0.1%.

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Black Friday boost for Asos

Shares in Asos (ASC.L) leapt 8% on Thursday morning after the online retailer revealed it did not suffer a Christmas slump like many rivals.

Asos said sales passed £1bn ($1.3bn) in the final quarter of 2019, boosted by a record Black Friday at the end of November. Total revenue rose 20% to £1.1bn.

The company kept its full-year forecasts unchanged and chief executive Nick Beighton said: “The focus for this year is to further enhance our capabilities and leverage the investments we have made.”

“Asos made it through the festive season without signalling a distress call,” said Sophie Lund-Yates, an equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown. “It’s hard to view these numbers as anything other than a step in the right direction.”

Volkswagen fined £114m

Volkswagen was hit with a £114m ($149.7m) fine over the diesel emissions scandal in Canada on Wednesday, just as it was leapfrogged by Tesla (TSLA) as the world’s second biggest carmaker.

The German car giant (VOW.DE) was charged in Canada last month with importing almost 128,000 vehicles that breached emissions standards.

It pleaded guilty to breaching Canadian environmental protection rules and providing misleading information, according to Reuters.

The C$196.5m ($149.7m, £114m) environmental penalty was approved by a judge on Wednesday.

It is the biggest environmental fine on record in Canada, with prosecutors saying it was 26 times higher than any previous penalty by the federal government.

ECB interest rates decision

The European Central Bank (ECB) is set to deliver its latest interest rate decision later today.

Economists are expecting the central bank to keep its headline rate unchanged at 0% and deposit rate unchanged at -0.5% when the decision is announced at 12.45pm UK time.

New ECB chief Christine Lagarde is also expected to give some details of a new policy and strategy review.

“The ECB will nod at the improving economy today, but also reiterate the need for sustained stimulus,” Claus Vistesen, chief eurozone economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said in a note sent to clients.

“Journalists will ask Ms. Lagarde about negative rates, and she will defend them as a policy tool. Ms. Lagarde will unveil the first details about the policy review, but details will be thin on the ground.”