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(LEAD) Seoul stocks take hit from soaring virus cases

All Headlines 16:48 February 20, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS photo, bond yields at bottom)

SEOUL, Feb. 20 (Yonhap) -- South Korean stocks closed lower Thursday on rising concerns of community spread of the novel coronavirus following a surge in the number of patients. The Korean won sharply fell against the U.S. dollar.

The benchmark Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI) rose 14.84 points, or 0.67 percent, to close at 2,195.50. This is the first time since Feb. 5 that the index fell below the 2,200-point mark.

Trading volume was high at 697 million shares worth 7.5 trillion won (US$6.2 billion), with losers outnumbering gainers 665 to 187.

The index had a strong start, tracking overnight Wall Street gains, but quickly fell below the flat line after local health authorities reported 31 additional novel coronavirus infections and raised the total to 82.

A currency dealer walks by a screen showing the Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI) at a dealing room at Hana Bank in Seoul on Feb. 20, 2020. (Yonhap)

With most new cases centered on the southeastern city of Daegu, the health authorities declared that the virus has begun spreading locally.

"Due to strong performance of U.S. stock markets, the index had a solid start. But investors started to sell stocks following the news that the number of novel coronavirus patients surged in South Korea," Seo Sang-yong, an analyst at Kiwoom Securities, said.

Institutional investors dumped a net 341 billion won worth of local shares. Foreigners bought a net 111 billion won, while retail investors scooped up a net 194 billion won.

Most large caps were in negative terrain.

Market kingpin Samsung Electronics slid 0.33 percent to 60,000 won, but No. 2 chipmaker SK hynix advanced 0.48 percent to 104,000 won.

Leading carmaker Hyundai Motor declined 1.14 percent to 130,000 won, and its sister company Kia Motors plunged 1.82 percent to 40,550 won. Auto parts maker Hyundai Mobis dropped 1.91 percent to 231,000 won.

The country's No. 1 chemical firm LG Chem, however, surged 3.71 percent to 419,000 won.

The local currency closed at 1,198.7 won against the dollar, sharply down 9.4 won from the previous session's close.

Bond prices, which move inversely to yields, closed higher. The yield on three-year Treasurys fell 5.0 basis points to 1.234 percent, and the return on the benchmark five-year government bond dropped 4.9 basis points to 1.331 percent.
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