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Bird Flu Causes Asian Stock Market Losses - 2004-01-30

The bird flu outbreak affected stock markets in Asia this week, and countries with large agricultural sectors took the biggest hit.

Thailand's stock market took a beating this week following reports of widespread bird flu outbreaks among chicken flocks and a handful of human cases. The main share index lost more than six percent for the week.

On Friday the SET index was trading around the 700-point level, down approximately 14 percent from a six-year high in mid-January.

However, Markus Rosgen, an equities analyst based in Hong Kong for a research arm of the ING investment bank, says the market was in for a correction even before the outbreak was made public.

"There was going to be a natural consolidation for the Thai equity market, but obviously, in the meantime, what you've had is also the arrival of bird flu," he said. "In the case of Thailand, agriculture makes up 8.5 percent of GDP."

Mr. Rosgen calculated that the impact of the bird flu on Thailand's GDP will be minimal if the outbreak is contained soon. He says poultry exports account for an average of only .6 percent of annual GDP.

Hong Kong has not reported cases of bird flu in chickens or people, but traders say the market is reacting to the possibility of a regional health crisis. The Hang Seng index ended the week about three percent lower, at 13,289.

South Korea and Japan both announced smaller bird flu outbreaks months before Thailand, and Mr. Rosgen says agriculture is less important to those economies. However, South Korean shares fell for the fourth consecutive session Friday.

Traders said foreign investors were selling market heavyweight Samsung Electronics.

The Kospi, Seoul's stock exchange composite index, closed 1.5 percent lower for the week. It finished Friday at 848.

The Philippines' main share index lost three percent this week - it closed Friday at 1,508. Traders say political concerns over the upcoming presidential elections and a Moody's downgrade of the Philippines foreign currency debt rating pulled shares lower.

However, traders said bargain-hunting late in the trading day Friday limited the downside.