March 19, 2020 / 2:43 AM / 16 days ago

UPDATE 1-Philippine stocks plunge 24% as trade resumes after virus shutdown

* Philippines leads regional stock market slump

* Investors wary of rising COVID-19 infections, deaths - analyst

* C.bank expected to cut rates Thurs afternoon (Recasts lead, adds details, background and analyst comment)

By Neil Jerome Morales

MANILA, March 19 (Reuters) - The Philippine stock market on Thursday crashed 24% to its lowest in more than eight years after trading resumed following a two-day suspension and as the coronavirus pandemic rocked global investor sentiment.

The broader stock index opened 12.4% lower, triggering an automatic 15-minute trading halt. It extended this decline to 24% when trade resumed, making the Philippines by far the region's biggest market loser.

Weaker stocks outnumbered advancers by nine to one.

The Philippines became the first country on Tuesday to completely close financial markets due to the outbreak. Some bourses elsewhere had already closed trading floors or paused trade after big falls in market value. The country's foreign exchange and bond trading platforms resumed operations on Wednesday.

"Investors are not comfortable aggressively participating in the market," Astro del Castillo, managing director at First Grade Finance in Manila, told Reuters. "The outbreak is still uncontrolled. The numbers of infected in the country increasing."

The Philippines has tallied 202 coronavirus infections and 17 deaths, mostly reported over the past two weeks. The government is scrambling for more kits to widen tests.

The central bank is widely expected to cut rates by at least 25 basis points at its policy meeting Thursday afternoon to buttress the economy.

The Philippines on Monday put more than half of the country's 107 million people on home quarantine and ordered non-essential businesses to shut or operate remotely for the next month.

Coronavirus infections surged across Southeast Asia on Wednesday with Indonesia's death toll jumping from five to 19 and Malaysia warning of "a tsunami" of cases if people did not follow new restrictions on movement. (Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Tom Hogue and Sam Holmes)

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