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SEOUL, Jan. 28 (Yonhap) -- South Korean stocks sank by more than 3 percent on Tuesday as the Wuhan coronavirus quickly spreading around the globe hurt investor sentiment, taking a toll on most market heavyweights. The local currency also fell sharply against the U.S. dollar.
The benchmark Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI) lost 69.41 points, or 3.09 percent, to close at 2,176.72. Trading volume was high at 800 million shares worth 8.64 trillion won (US$7.34 billion), with losers far outnumbering gainers 816 to 82.
The Tuesday closing marked the steepest decline since the 4.44 percent drop posted on Oct. 11, 2018.
The local financial market was closed on Friday and Monday for the Lunar New Year holiday.
Investor sentiment is gripped by growing concern over the coronavirus, which is expected to have an adverse impact on domestic consumption and possibly hinder the economic growth of China, the top trading partner of South Korea.
"Amid the rising number of patients, investors are in a rush to safe havens," Lee Kyung-soo, a researcher at Meritz Securities Co., said. "This issue will especially hurt the consumer goods, travel and leisure segments."
The country reported its fourth confirmed case of the Wuhan virus, with the third and fourth patients known to have been in contact with many citizens here, raising concerns that the novel virus may spread across the country.
The Wuhan coronavirus, first reported on Dec. 31, 2019, was originally believed to be passed to humans from animals but is now known to be transmissible from person to person, although victims may be contracting the virus by coming in contact with saliva and other bodily fluids rather than through airborne factors.
Beijing said the number of patients hovered above 4,500, with more than 100 deaths being reported so far.
Foreigners sold a net 523 billion won, extending their selling streak to a fourth consecutive session. Retail investors bought a net 668 billion won, while institutions dumped a net 192 billion won.
Shares lost ground across the board, with retailers and foodstuff makers bearing the brunt of the deadly virus.
Top tech giant Samsung Electronics moved down 3.29 percent to 58,800 won, and No. 2 chipmaker SK hynix slid 2.43 percent to 96,300 won. LG Display lost 1.68 percent to 14,600 won.
Retailers sharply lost ground on concerns that the spread of the virus is weighing on consumer sentiment, with duty-free operator Lotte Shopping plunging 7.31 percent to 120,500 won and No. 1 retailer E-Mart losing 3.81 percent to 113,500 won. Hotel Shilla surrendered 10.31 percent to 87,000 won.
Foodstuff makers also finished weaker, with Orion losing 5.53 percent to 102,500 won and CJ Cheiljedang sliding 2.81 percent to 242,500 won. Hite Jinro, a major liquor maker, shed 3.68 percent to 31,450 won.
Monalisa, a mask producer, increased by the daily permissible limit of 29.86 percent to 8,090 won, as the demand for hygiene products has been running high here.
Top pharmaceutical firm Samsung BioLogics also moved up 2.28 percent to 494,000 won.
The local currency closed at 1,176.70 won to the dollar, down 8 won from the previous session's close, sinking to a two-month low.
Bond prices, which move inversely to yields, closed sharply higher. The yield on three-year Treasurys fell 7.2 basis point to 1.352 percent, and the return on the benchmark five-year government bond lost 8.7 basis points to 1.450 percent.
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