South Korean stocks fell more than 1 percent on Thursday as foreigners became net sellers for the fourth consecutive session amid the growing number of patients infected with the new coronavirus here. The Korean won fell against the U.S. dollar.
The benchmark Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI) decreased 21.88 points, or 1.05 percent, to close at 2,054.89, its lowest level since the 2,044.61 posted on Oct. 11 last year.
Trading volume was moderate at 551 million shares worth 7 trillion won (US$5.75 billion), with losers far outnumbering gainers 721 to 138.
The market earlier opened nearly flat as investors sat on the sidelines over the number of new infections here, although some opted to scoop up bargains.
It slipped into negative terrain, however, after the country added 334 new cases of the COVID-19, bringing the total infections here to 1,595 in the morning. More than half of the newly confirmed cases were linked to a branch of a religious sect in the southeastern city of Daegu.
After the market closed on Thursday, South Korea added 171 more cases, increasing the number to 1,766 cases.
South Korea's central bank's decision to hold its key policy rate steady also weighed down on investor sentiment.
The central bank slashed its growth estimate to 2.1 percent, down from 2.3 percent forecast three months earlier as well.
"As COVID-19 also spread to South America and the Middle East, the U.S. stock market also closed mixed overnight, having an adverse impact on the local stock market," said Seo Sang-young, a researcher at Kiwoom Securities Co.
Foreigners dumped a net 407 billion won, while institutions bought a net 7 billion won. Individuals scooped up a net 348 billion won.
Shares lost ground throughout the bourse.
Top market cap Samsung Electronics dipped 1.06 percent to 55,900 won, and No. 2 chipmaker SK hynix slid 1.9 percent to 92,800 won. Home appliances maker LG Electronics moved down 1.42 percent to 62,400 won.
Leading carmaker Hyundai Motor lost 1.22 percent to hit 121,000 won and its auto parts arm Hyundai Mobis shed 0.45 percent to close at 219,000 won. Kia Motors lost 1.18 percent at 37,700 won.
Naver, which operates South Korea's top online portal, surrendered 2.67 percent, falling to 182,000 won, and its rival Kakao moved down 2.99 percent to 178,500 won.
Hanjin KAL, the holding company of Hanjin Group which has Korean Air Lines Co. and low-cost carrier Jin Air Co. under its wing, rose 8.33 percent amid the owner family's dispute over management control.
Insurance firms closed higher, with Samsung Life Insurance rising 0.16 percent to 60,800 won and Samsung Fire & Marine Insurance increasing 1 percent to 202,000 won.
The local currency closed at 1,217.20 won against the greenback, down 0.30 won from the previous session's close.
Bond prices, which move inversely to yields, closed lower. The yield on three-year Treasurys rose 5.9 basis points to 1.194 percent, and the return on the benchmark five-year government bond gained 5.8 basis points to 1.290 percent. (Yonhap)