Asian stocks drop as coronavirus fears return

Asia’s biggest stock markets  dropped overnight as fears rose about the death toll from coronavirus in the US, Japan entered a new fiscal year on an unsteady footing, and banks axed dividends.

Following the worst quarter for global equities since 2008, Japan’s Nikkei 225 index tumbled 5.1 per cent, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index dropped 2.7 per cent, and China’s Shanghai composite slipped 0.6 per cent.

In Hong Kong, banking behemoth HSBC plunged 9.5 per cent after it bowed to pressure from UK regulators and suspended dividend payouts and promised not to buy back shares.

The decision will be particularly unpopular with retail investors, some of whom rely on dividend payments for their income.

Japanese investors were bracing themselves on the first day of the new fiscal year for a global recession and a wave of corporate earnings and dividend cuts.

In a sign of the gloom over the country’s economy, The Bank of Japan’s “tankan” corporate survey showed the country’s manufacturers became pessimistic for the first time in seven years.