Stocks Eke Higher on Eve of Chinese New Year

Stocks in major Asian markets edged higher on Friday as the number of coronavirus cases in mainland China rose to more than 800, with the death toll increasing to 25.

In Japan, the Nikkei 225 index regained 31.74 points, or 0.1%, to 23,827.18.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index recovered from an earlier slip, rising 0.2% to close early at 27,949.64.

The Japanese yen, often seen as a safe-haven currency in times of economic uncertainty, traded at 109.54 per U.S. dollar after strengthening sharply from levels above 110 seen earlier in the trading week.

Australian markets made slight progress. The Australian dollar was at $0.6845 after seeing highs above $0.687 yesterday.

Markets in mainland China, Singapore, Korea and Taiwan were closed for the day.

The moves came as investors continued to watch the situation surrounding a fast-spreading coronavirus that was first diagnosed less than a month ago. The total number of coronavirus cases in China jumped to 830, Chinese state media reported on Friday. There are at least 14 known cases outside mainland China, bringing the cases worldwide to 844.

Major markets across the region such as China and South Korea were closed on Friday ahead of the Lunar New Year that starts on Saturday.

The coronavirus epidemic in China has brought back memories of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2002 and 2003, which killed about 800 people.

In other markets

In New Zealand, the NZX 50 subtracted 23.3 points, or 0.2%, to 11,877.81

In Australia, the ASX 200 edged 2.58 points to 7,090.54