Coronavirus in, climate change out: Costello, deVere

With the death toll surpassing 132 and a further 6000 people suspected of being infected, the outbreak of the Wuhan coronavirus has left markets tumbling as fears of an epidemic are stoked by news of the virus spreading around the world.

It's caused the new coronavirus to be dubbed the number one threat to financial markets and the global economy, with former Howard Government Treasurer and Future Fund chair Peter Costello warning of the short-term risk of the rapidly spreading virus.

"As of today, the big short-term risk would be the coronavirus," Costello told a press conference in Melbourne.

"We don't know how far that will spread, we don't know what it will do to the tourism industry; we don't know what it will do to infrastructure assets such as airports, airlines."

Climate change, Costello warned, was a longer-term risk, now shadowed by the global threat of the virus.

Meanwhile, independent financial advisory firm deVere Group has warned investors to avoid "knee-jerk reactions" to the economic threat of the coronavirus.

The stark warning comes just a week after the firm championed the words of environmental activist Greta Thunberg and urged other investment firms to put climate concerns and ESG issues at the forefront of their investment decisions.

"The coronavirus is the number one threat to financial markets currently as global investors are becoming jittery on the uncertainty," deVere chief executive Nigel Green said.

"Whilst this health crisis will inevitably hit some sectors, such as travel and retail, most investors who have a properly diversified portfolio should avoid knee-jerk reactions."

"History teaches us that most issues of this kind have a short-term impact on stock markets," Green said.

And "short-term impact" the new coronavirus has had.

On Monday in Asia, markets suffered dramatic blows, with the Shanghai Composite falling 2.7%, the Hong Kong Hang Seng dropping 1.1%, and Japan's Nikkei falling 2%.

Meanwhile in Europe, the composite European Stoxx 600 fell 1.7% at the open, while London's FTSE 100 dropped 1.6%, and Germany's Dax suffered a 1.7% blow.

US benchmarks fell sharply too, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average falling for the fifth day straight, down 1.6% or 453.93 points on Monday. The S&P 500 also fell 1.6% in its worst performance since October, while the Nasdaq had its worst day since August, dropping 1.9%.

The Australian market did not escape unharmed.

The ASX All Ordinaries dove 1.7% at the open on Tuesday, with miners and travel companies suffering the hardest blows.

The new coronavirus, which has put the Chinese city Wuhan on the global map, has already spread to 16 different countries according to the New York Times, with 73 cases reported outside of China.

Fears of a further proliferation of the virus were heightened after the mayor of Wuhan confirmed that five million people had fled the city before it was placed on lockdown.

There have been five confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Australia, four of which have been identified in New South Wales.

It comes as Australian scientists achieve a major breakthrough in the global fight against the Wuhan virus, developing a lab-grown copy of the coronavirus in the first step to finding a vaccine.

Despite the possibility of a cure, research by PricewaterhouseCoopers suggests the coronavirus could cause a $2.3 billion reduction in Australia's GDP over the coming year, with jobs and tourism dollars taking a hard hit from a decline in Chinese tourists and students.

The report argued that more than 20,000 jobs could be impacted by a drop in Chinese tourism, with businesses missing out on approximately $9.2 billion in Chinese spending.

Green said financial advisers and investors should adopt a defensive approach in the coming weeks.

"Most investors should monitor the situation with their financial adviser and sit tight at present," he said.

"But if it is still escalating next week, with much higher casualty rates, a more defensive approach might be necessary.

"However, the cost and effort of making such a switch means you do not do it lightly."

He argued that a multi-asset approach would mitigate the long term risks of the new coronavirus.

"More evidence is needed that the virus does pose a medium to long term risk to China and the global economy," Green said.

"But that said, this should serve as a wake-up call to all investors to ensure their portfolio is well-diversified across asset classes, regions, sectors, even currencies.

Despite Green's ominous prediction, he argues that financial markets will likely bounce back in the next few months.

"Stock markets tend to bottom with the peak in new cases during a public health issue of this kind, before rebounding within months," he said.

"This is a worrying and serious situation and investors must be vigilant. They should remain properly diversified and remain in the market."

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