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Asia: Stocks mixed amid ongoing virus concern

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[SYDNEY] Asian stocks were mixed as investors mulled updates on the deadly coronavirus outbreak. Oil steadied after its recent slide.

Early gains in Tokyo fizzled and Hong Kong traded flat, while shares in Sydney ticked higher. US stock futures were steady after the S&P 500 eked out a small advance, helped by gains for big tech companies.

As officials in China widened their travel ban beyond the epicentre of the outbreak, the World Health Organization stopped short of calling the virus a global health emergency, saying it remains a local crisis.

The yuan edged up while the yen held Thursday's rise. Treasuries were little changed.

Markets in mainland China and South Korea are shut, and Hong Kong closes early, for lunar new year holidays.

While investors remain cautious with global stocks trading close to all-time highs, corporate earnings are topping expectations and slew of data this month has validated forecasts for a recovery in the global economy.

Still, traders remain cognisant of the chance the virus develops into a more devastating pandemic, like the Sars illness that emerged in China 17 years ago.

"The scare should eventually prove to be a buying opportunity, but the market would first need evidence that the situation is stabilising," wrote Citgroup Inc emerging market strategists in a note Thursday.

"In spite of the Chinese authorities being more open and proactive this time, we are probably closer to the beginning than to the end of the outbreak."

Elsewhere, the euro held losses seen in wake of a suggestion from policy makers that they will need to maintain ultra-loose stimulus settings for the foreseeable future.

Stocks

Futures on the S&P 500 Index added 0.1 per cent as of 11.45am in Tokyo. The underlying gauge rose 0.1 per cent on Thursday. Japan's Topix index dipped 0.1 per cent. Hong Kong's Hang Seng slipped 0.1 per cent, and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 Index gained 0.3 per cent.

Currencies

The yen was at 109.46 per US dollar, little changed. The offshore yuan rose 0.1 per cent to 6.9272 per US dollar, while the euro bought US$1.1052, little changed.

Bonds

The yield on 10-year Treasuries stayed at 1.73 per cent. Australia's 10-year yield dipped two basis points to 1.08 per cent.

Commodities

West Texas Intermediate crude oil slid less than 0.1 per cent to US$55.57 a barrel. Gold dipped 0.1 per cent to US$1,561.41 an ounce.

BLOOMBERG