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China Virus Pushes Airline Investors to Emergency Exits

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Shares of U.S. airlines have hit a collective air pocket amid concern that a deadly virus that has claimed the lives of six people in China will negatively affect operations – and profits.

Shares of Delta Air Lines (DAL) - Get Report , American Airlines (AAL) - Get Report and United Airlines (UAL) - Get Report, the three carriers with more international-bound flights, all dropped on Tuesday, following airline stocks listed in Hong Kong, which also took a hit.

Chinese authorities on Tuesday confirmed six deaths in an ongoing coronavirus outbreak in the country, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to more than 200. It was also confirmed that the virus can spread from person-to-person contact.

Outside China, cases have also been confirmed in Thailand, Japan and South Korea, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Investors are concerned that air carriers like Delta, American and United could be impacted not only be a reduction in overseas travel but also by costs related to delays and screening of passengers for the virus, which at first blush resembles the common cold.

Broader concerns that the virus will lead to a global epidemic similar to the so-called SAR outbreak in 2002 and 2003 also prompted investors to head for the proverbial emergency exits on Tuesday. 

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