TORONTO -- Canada's main stock index saw all of this year's gains wiped away Wednesday with a fourth day of triple-digit declines over concerns about the impact of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

The S&P/TSX composite index closed down 135.45 points at 17,041.92, below where it ended 2019 at 17,063.43.

North American stock markets started the day higher with the TSX rising 127 points before falling in later trading.

Sentiment is very fragile with investors responding to headlines about the virus spreading beyond China, said Candice Bangsund, portfolio manager for Fiera Capital.

"Equity markets are largely focused on coronavirus fears and investors are really just trying to attempt to gauge the severity of the outbreak and the ramifications for global growth," she said in an interview.

Markets climbed to record highs in the past week or so amid signs that the virus was slowing in China where it has reported 2,715 deaths among 78,064 cases.

They then plunged on reports that cases have spread to Japan, Iran, South Korea, Italy and Brazil. There have been musings about cancelling this summer's Olympic Games in Tokyo after five people died from the virus. The number of positive cases in Italy has reached 400 and Brazil said Wednesday that a man who travelled to Italy was the first confirmed case among 20 suspected cases.

Markets were also spooked after U.S. health officials warned Tuesday the virus could spread to the U.S.

"This has really worried the market and just essentially investors are trying to gauge when this thing will be contained," she said.

U.S. President Donald Trump was scheduled to hold a news conference after markets closed to try to calm fears.

In New York, the Dow Jones industrial average was down 123.77 points at 26,957.59. The S&P 500 index was down 11.82 points at 3,116.39, while the Nasdaq composite was up 15.16 points at 8,980.77.

U.S. markets have seen gains wiped out for the year as they fell as much as 8.8 per cent below the record highs set over the past two weeks.

A correction of more than 10 per cent is likely but Bangsund believes the Canadian market should hold up better than the U.S. The TSX is 5.2 per cent below the record high set last Thursday.

"The Canadian market has been trading at a fairly steep discount to the U.S. so that's acting to protect some of the downside in Canada, in addition to the fact that we do have the hedge with the gold exposure in Canada. It's been encouraging to see that the market has held up."

She maintains her outlook for the TSX to 18,500, implying about an 8.5 per cent gain from here. That would be well behind the 19 per cent growth in 2019 but better than other markets.

"Our base case continues to be that this will continue to be a matter of short-term pain for long-term gain," she said.

"Volatility in the near-term trading on the headlines but once we get confirmation that the outbreak has been contained we expect the global economy to recover and sentiment to recover in general."

Technology was the lone sector to gain on the TSX.

Energy lost 2.8 per cent with shares of Crescent Point Energy Corp. dropping 5.5 per cent as crude oil prices fell to their lowest level in more than a year.

The April crude contract was down US$1.17 at US$48.73 per barrel and the April natural gas contract was down 1.4 cents at US$1.84 per mmBTU.

The oil price fell despite U.S. weekly crude inventories increasing less than had been expected.

The Canadian dollar traded for 75.15 cents US compared with an average of 75.30 cents US on Tuesday.

Materials was pushed lower with First Quantum Minerals Ltd. down 1.55 per cent on decreased gold prices.

The April gold contract was down US$6.90 at US$1,643.10 an ounce and the May copper contract was down 0.85 of a cent at US$2.57 a pound.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 26, 2020.


An earlier version contained the wrong closing crude price.