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Virus pandemic fears knock European markets

A jump in number of coronavirus cases outside China hit European shares this morning, as investors feared the outbreak will take a bigger toll on global growth than anticipated.

The pan-European STOXX 600 tumbled 2.5% in early trade, on pace for its biggest percentage loss since October, with all the major regional indexes down over 2%. 

Milan shares tumbled 3.7% to its lowest in nearly three weeks as Italy saw the biggest flare-up of coronavirus cases in Europe, with three people dying of the illness since Friday and more than 150 cases reported.

Shares on London’s FTSE index were down 2.1%, while the Paris CAC slumped 2.9% and the Frankfurt DAX shed 2.8%. 

Dublin shares were also much weaker this morning, falling by 3%. Shares in Bank of Ireland were down 3.1% as it reported a fall in operating profits for 2019. 

Among the worst performers on the STOXX 600 were airline stocks, with EasyJet, Ryanair, Air France and Lufthansa down between 7% and 11%. Europe’s travel & leisure index tumbled 4%.

Ryanair’s shares tumbled almost 9% in Dublin trade.

Europe’s travel and leisure index was also down 4% this morning. 

Luxury goods makers, miners, automakers, technology and banking shares all sensitive to global growth sentiment were down more than 3%.

Primark-owner Associated British Foods slid 3% as it warned of potential supply shortages on some lines later in the 2019-20 financial year if delays in factory production in China are prolonged due to coronavirus.

In Asia, Seoul led a sharp drop across the region’s equity markets after South Korea announced a surge in virus infections. 

Traders had been broadly optimistic that the virus – which has killed nearly 2,600 and infected 80,000 – was being contained outside China but a spurt of infections and deaths in other countries including South Korea, Italy and Iran has fanned fears of a wider outbreak.

With the outbreak showing little sign of easing, investors are increasingly concerned it could have a much longer-term impact on the world economy.

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