What's happening 

Shares of German automaker BMW AG (OTC:BAMXF) (OTC:BMWYY) were down sharply on Thursday afternoon after the company's German-listed shares were hammered by growing concerns around the novel coronavirus in Europe.

As of 2:30 p.m. EDT, BMW's American depositary receipts were down about 10.9% from Wednesday's closing price. 

So what

BMW's shares, along with those of key rivals Volkswagen AG (OTC:VWAGY) and Daimler AG (OTC:DMLR.Y), fell sharply in trading in Germany following blunt comments by Chancellor Angela Merkel about the likely effects of the virus pandemic in the country. BMW's U.S.-listed American depositary receipts continued to trade down after the German markets closed. 

A gray BMW 8 Series convertible, parked on a beach.

Strong sales of high-margin models like the 8 Series helped BMW to a 26% profit increase, but investors worried about the coronavirus weren't impressed. Image source: BMW AG.

Merkel said that public-health experts expect 60% to 70% of the population of Germany will be infected by the COVID-19 virus. The possibility of a pandemic, as well as quarantine measures that could keep consumers out of stores for weeks or even months, drove a broad sell-off in stocks in Frankfurt.

Now what

BMW tried to lift investors' spirits with an early release of preliminary 2019 earnings results ahead of its planned report to investors next week. The company said that its fourth-quarter automotive operating profit rose 26% from a year ago, to 1.83 billion euros ($2.03 billion), on strong sales of high-end "upper luxury" BMW and Rolls-Royce vehicles. But after a brief rally, the stock fell, once again. 

BMW will release its complete fourth-quarter and full-year 2019 earnings on March 18.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.