Coronavirus fears weighed on global stock markets Thursday as investors headed for the exits even after China reported a big drop in new cases and eased borrowing costs to cushion the epidemic's economic impact.

After powering to a record close the day before, traders fearing the virus could spread and harm the global economy, or simply capitalizing on high prices to take profits, sent Wall Street into the red.

But Art Hogan of National Holdings said the drop on Wall Street was "much more that we have not taken a pause for a bit. It's healthy."

"We've been up since October; we have not had two down days in a row in the S&P 500 yet this year," Hogan said.

Meanwhile, Vice Chair of the US Federal Reserve Richard Clarida said in an interview with CNBC the US economy has "solid fundamentals."

That echoed the upbeat findings of regional business surveys, and the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank's manufacturing index released Thursday, which jumped to a three-year high.

However, he warned the virus could have a "noticeable impact on Chinese growth" and potentially hurt production elsewhere.

The world's second-largest economy, plays a key role in global supply chains, and investors are hoping central banks will do what is necessary to protect corporate earnings and economic growth.

The People's Bank of China (PBoC) lowered prime rates for one-year and five-year loans, but the moves were "not nearly enough," said Stephen Innes of AxiCorp.

China has set up a number of makeshift hospitals in the virus epicentre of Hubei, and on Thursday announced its lowest number of new cases in a month
China has set up a number of makeshift hospitals in the virus epicentre of Hubei, and on Thursday announced its lowest number of new cases in a month AFP / STR

The bank's actions still helped the Shanghai stock market reach a 1.8 percent closing gain.

But as Wells Fargo analysts noted, "Newly confirmed cases are quickly increasing in South Korea, although reported cases in China appear to be moderating."

In Europe, stock markets were well down by the close, but the fall on London's FTSE 100 was not as bad as a weakening pound gave a fillip to stock prices in the export sector.

Air France-KLM shares plunged after the airline reported that the coronavirus had blown a large hole in 2020 earnings to date while separately unveiling lower profits for 2019.

After European bourses shut, the International Air Transport Association said that worldwide airline revenue lost to the virus was projected at $29.3 billion, mostly in the Asia-Pacific region, especially in China.

The dollar rose against all its major rivals, with many analysts pointing to its safe-haven status amid the coronavirus crisis.

However, Matt Weller, head of market research at GAIN Capital, said politics also were playing a role.

An "underappreciated driver" for the greenback, he said, "may be the prospects for President (Donald) Trump to get reelected."

Gold, another popular safe-haven investment, continued firm after reaching a seven-year high on Wednesday.

Coronavirus fears are keeping a lid on investor confidence
Coronavirus fears are keeping a lid on investor confidence AFP / Daniel ROLAND

Oil prices rebounded as hopes spread that the impact of the virus on economic growth, and therefore crude demand, will be limited.

New York - Dow: DOWN 0.4 percent to 29,219.98 (close)

New York - S&P 500: DOWN 0.4 percent to 3,373.23 (close)

New York - Nasdaq: DOWN 0.7 percent to 9,750.96 (close)

London - FTSE 100: DOWN 0.3 percent at 7,436.64 points (close)

Frankfurt - DAX 30: DOWN 0.9 percent at 13,664.00 (close)

Paris - CAC 40: DOWN 0.8 percent at 6,062.30 (close)

EURO STOXX 50: DOWN 1.1 percent at 3,822.98 (close)

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: UP 0.3 percent at 23,479.15 (close)

Shanghai - Composite: UP 1.8 percent at 3,030.15 (close)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng: DOWN 0.2 percent at 27,609.16 (close)

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.0782 from $1.0805 at 2200 GMT

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2883 from $1.2920

Euro/pound: UP at 83.89 pence from 83.63

Dollar/yen: UP at 112.08 from 111.37

Brent Crude: UP 0.1 percent at $59.04 per barrel

West Texas Intermediate: UP 0.9 percent at $53.77