Hong Kong falls more than 4% as US-China tensions weigh on investor sentiment

Stocks in Asia fell on Monday, as reigniting tensions between the U.S. and China weighed on investor sentiment, with major regional markets closed for holidays.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index dropped 4.18% to close at 23,613.80, with shares of Chinese tech juggernaut Tencent falling 4.08%.

Meanwhile, South Korea’s Kospi fell 2.68% to close at 1,895.37. Singapore’s Straits Times index dropped 2.15% while the Nifty 50 in India plunged 5.34% in afternoon trade.

In Australia, the S&P/ASX 200 bucked the overall trend as it recovered from its earlier slip to close 1.41% higher at 5,319.80. Shares of major bank Westpac gained 2.8% despite the firm earlier announcing a profit plunge in its first half earnings and a deferral in its dividend payment.

Overall, the MSCI Asia ex-Japan index declined 2.54%.

Markets in China, Japan and Thailand were closed on Monday for holidays.

The moves regionally came as tensions rise between Washington and Beijing. U.S. President Donald Trump said Sunday that he believed that a “mistake” in China was the cause of the spreading coronavirus pandemic, though he did not present any evidence for the claim. The nation’s top spy agency said Thursday that it had determined that the virus was not man made but was still investigating whether it was caused by “an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan.”

The Associated Press additionally reported that U.S. intelligence documents accused China of concealing the severity of the coronavirus outbreak to hoard medical supplies.

“Even as growth-stifling containment measures are set to be phased out in May, the global downturn looks to deepen in Q2,” economists at Mizuho Bank wrote in a note. “If prospects of hard-to-reverse job losses overwhelm, alongside Trump’s anti-China threats, ‘Mayday’ type of fear dynamics may rule the day.”

Developments on the global coronavirus outbreak continued to be monitored by investors, with more than 3.5 million infected worldwide while at least 247,300 lives have been taken, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Trump said on Sunday that he was confident that there will be a coronavirus vaccine by the end of the year.

“We are very confident that we are going to have a vaccine at the end of the year, by the end of the year,” Trump said. Still, public health officials have said a coronavirus vaccine could take a year to 18 months.

“We’ve been saying for a week or two that we feel that maybe equity markets in the short-term might be getting a bit ahead of themselves,” Steve Brice, chief investment strategist at Standard Chartered Private Bank, told CNBC’s “Street Signs” on Monday. “The road to recovery is unlikely to be smooth, both in terms of the speed of opening up and whether we see any re-acceleration of Covid-19 cases.”

Oil prices decline

Oil prices fell in the afternoon of Asian trading hours, with international benchmark Brent crude futures down 2.5% to $25.78 per barrel. U.S. crude futures also dropped 7.03% to $18.39 per barrel.

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was at 99.373 after declining from levels above 100 last week.

The Japanese yen traded at 106.75 per dollar after strengthening from levels above 107 last week. The Australian dollar changed hands at $0.6406 after declining from levels above $0.648 last week.

— CNBC’s Tucker Higgins contributed to this report.

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