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ASX Today: Coronavirus eclipses financial reports as ASX closes battered

The Australian market continued its sharp decline today amid concerns the COVID-19 coronavirus could become a global pandemic. 

According to the World Health Organisation, the number of new infections being reported from outside of the country of origin is now higher than those being reported in China.

Late in the afternoon, the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morison announced the national emergency response plan had been initiated and the ban on flights from China would be extended for another week.

In the US session overnight, the Dow Jones Industrial Index declined 0.46 per cent, and the S&P 500 gave up 0.38 per cent. On the other hand, the Nasdaq added 0.17 per cent. 

Back home, the Australian market saw some initial gains but by market close the S&P ASX 200 had declined three-quarters of a per cent to 6657.9 points. Since last Thursday the benchmark index has retreated 504.6 points.  

Today, all but two of the sectors closed in the red, with the utilities sector tacking on a mild 0.3 per cent and health care gaining upward of 1 per cent. CSL helped pull its weigh for the latter, gaining 2 per cent to bring its share price to $316.86. 

On the other hand, energy and information technology both dropped upward of two per cent each. In the energy sector, eight of the ten biggest companies by market cap closed lower along with declining oil prices. Caltex lost 1 per cent, Oil Search 2.9 per cent and Woodside 1.97 per cent. Of the info tech stocks, Afterpay and Codan were the only two of the top fifteen by market cap to close in the green. 

Financial stocks told a similar story. All four of the big banks lost more than 1 per cent from their share price, with ANZ dipping 2.07 per cent. Insurance Group Australia was rare gainer, adding 1.23 per cent to its price. 

The materials sector overall lost half a per cent with BHP down 1.01 per cent and Rio Tinto down 1.61 per cent. Conversely, Newcrest Mining rose 1.27 per cent, Northern Star Resources almost 3 per cent, Evolution Mining 3.47 per cent and Saracen Mineral Holdings 2.7 per cent.  

Asian Markets were also feeling the weight of the coronavirus and most key indices were in the red at the close of the Australian session. However, the Shanghai Composite was up roughly half a per cent. 

At 2 pm AEDT, the Australian dollar traded for 0.6557 USD marking its lowest point since March 2007. However, by close of the local market it had regained some ground against the greenback and was buying 0.62 U.S. dollars.

The Aussie dollar was also buying 1.04 New Zealand Dollars, 0.60 Euros, 0.50 Great British Pounds and 72.23 Japanese Yen.

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