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Asian-Pacific Stocks Mixed as U.S Dollar Gains, Oil Adds Losses

Asia-Pacific markets retraced some losses on Thursday to trade mixed as traders grappled with optimism around a potential coronavirus vaccine and economic worries.

In Australia, the benchmark ASX 200 erased earlier losses to finish up 0.25% at 6,547.20. The so-called Big Four banks closed higher, with Westpac up by 2.31%. Major miners were mixed, with BHP down by 0.87%.

Jobs in the country surged, beating expectations in October after the state of Victoria eased coronavirus restrictions. Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed employment increased by 178,800 people from September while the unemployment rate rose fractionally from 6.9% to 7% — Victoria’s employment rose by 81,600 people.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 declined 0.36% to 25,634.34 while the Topix index rose 0.33% to 1,726.41. In South Korea, the Kospi index erased earlier losses to rise fractionally to 2,547.42.

Chinese mainland shares reversed course to erase earlier losses: The Shanghai composite was up 0.47% to 3,363.09, Shenzhen composite rose 0.63% to 2,275.84 and the Shenzhen component advanced 0.87% to 13,777.45. Elsewhere, in Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index dropped 0.46% in afternoon trade.

The session in Asia followed U.S. stocks falling for a second straight day, pausing a recent rally to new records.

“It was a consolidative day for financial markets, which are caught in the crosscurrent of vaccine optimism and near-term economic weakness,” Daniel Been, head of foreign-exchange and G3 research at ANZ, wrote in a morning note.

Pfizer and BioNTech on Wednesday said that a final data analysis found their coronavirus vaccine was 95% effective in preventing Covid-19 and appeared to fend off severe disease. Meanwhile Moderna said preliminary phase three trial data showed its vaccine was more than 94% effective.

Still, as cases continue to climb, particularly in the U.S., authorities are moving to reinstitute some of the stay-at-home orders, curfews and public safety measures, including shutting down nonessential businesses in a handful of cities. There are growing worries that if the infection spread is not contained, widespread lockdowns could be reinstated.

Other countries are also facing grim outlooks: Death tolls are rising in Italy and Spain while Japan recorded more than 2,000 new cases on Wednesday.

The dollar index, which measures the U.S. dollar against a basket of its peers, traded up 0.15% at 92.457 as of 2:52 p.m. HK/SIN, slipping from levels near 93.00 last week.

U.S. dollar “continues to be driven by conflicting headlines around vaccine progress and high infection rates (and renewed lockdowns),” said Kim Mundy, senior economist and currency strategist, at the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, in a morning note.

“The risk is that a vaccine is not ready fast enough to offset near‑term economic damage of widespread lockdowns as a number of countries battle to get infection rates back under control,” Mundy said.

The Japanese yen traded near flat at 103.86 against the greenback while the Australian dollar changed hands at $0.7292, dropping from earlier levels around $0.73.

Oil prices fell Thursday during Asian trading hours: U.S. crude futures were down 0.77% at $41.5 per barrel while global benchmark Brent declined 0.41% to $44.16.