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Stocks - Europe Plunges Again as Virus Goes Global

By Geoffrey Smith -- Europe’s stock markets plunged again at the opening on Thursday, as data showed new cases of the coronavirus outside of China exceeding those inside the country for the first time.

Sentiment was also depressed by more corporate warnings about the hit to earnings and revenue, with AB Inbev spin-off Budweiser APAC reporting a drop in sales and Standard Chartered (LON:STAN) saying it still couldn’t estimate the scale of the damage. Overnight, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) had joined Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) in saying it would miss its guidance for the current quarter.

By 3:35 AM ET (8:35 GMT), the benchmark Euro Stoxx 600 was down 10.1 points or 2.5%, while the U.K. FTSE 100 was down 2.6% and the German DAX was down 2.3% and the French CAC 40 was down 2.4%.

“We’re now in a situation where fear rather than reality is the main economic threat,” said UBS Wealth Management chief economist Paul Donovan said in a morning podcast, with an eye on business confidence data due out later from the European Commission.

With a deluge of companies reporting, what stood out were negative updates even from companies with relatively little exposure to the virus. In the U.K., Reckitt Benckiser took a multibillion write-down on its acquisition of baby-food maker Mead Johnson, while NMC Health ousted its chief executive Prasanth Manghat and put its chief financial officer on extended leave after an internal investigation unearthed accounting discrepancies.

Overnight, however, Chinese stocks had risen amid further evidence that the virus outbreak is receding there. Even so, Zhang Nanshang, a noted Chinese virologist, said he didn’t expect the outbreak to be fully under control until April (he had earlier eyed mid-February).

In other markets, Brent crude extended its declines as markets priced in a wider drop in demand for fuel due to the outbreak, while gold futures kept above $1,651 an ounce. Germany’s 10-year Bund yield fell another 2 basis points to -0.52%.

The euro, however, rose 0.5% against the dollar to $1.0930, as the first locally-transmitted case of Covid-19 in the U.S. prompted traders to question the ability of the U.S. economy to avoid a hit from the virus. The euro also rose 0.4% against sterling.

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