Asian Markets

Asian Markets Mostly Fall, Investors Watch Out for the Omicron Variant

Major markets in Asia-Pacific largely fell on Monday as investors continue to monitor developments surrounding the recently discovered omicron Covid variant.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index slipped 0.95% to close at 23,852.24. Hong Kong-listed shares of Chinese tech giant Meituan lost 7% after the firm on Friday posted a loss of about 10 billion Chinese yuan ($1.56 billion) for the three months ended Sept. 30.

Asian markets Chart
Hang Seng Index Performance Chart

Shares of Sun Entertainment Group in Hong Kong sank 30.97% after the South China Morning Post reported that controlling shareholder Alvin Chau Cheok-Wa was among a group of people arrested over alleged gambling offences. Shares of Suncity Group, where Chau is CEO, were suspended on Monday “pending the release of an announcement in relation to news coverage” about Chau.

Mainland Chinese stocks closed mixed, with the Shanghai composite falling fractionally to 3,562.70 and the Shenzhen component nudging 0.223% higher to 14,810.20.

In Japan, the Nikkei 225 declined 1.63% to close at 28,283.92 while the Topix index dropped 1.84% to 1,948.48. South Korea’s Kospi shed 0.92%, closing at 2,909.32.

Shares in Australia also slipped as the S&P/ASX 200 fell 0.54% on the day to 7,239.80. MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan shed 0.41%.

Elsewhere, U.S. stock futures moved higher following Friday’s big sell-off, as investors stateside also watched for the latest developments related to the omicron variant.

Global markets tumbled late last week as the World Health Organization (WHO) labelled the omicron Covid strain a “variant of concern.” In Asia, the Nikkei 225 in Japan and Hang Seng index in Hong Kong both fell more than 2% on Friday.

“Things definitely will be a little bit more dicey going forward. This variant, as it seems, might not be as horrible as the market thought it might be on Friday, but still it’s got to shake out some of the excess risk taking and perhaps some of the excess consumption out there in the world too as people grow a bit more cautious,” John Vail, chief global strategist at Nikko Asset Management.

The WHO said in a Sunday statement that it was still unclear whether infection with the omicron Covid variant causes more severe disease as compared with other strains, including delta.

Travel stocks took a hit in Monday trade, adding to losses seen Friday.

In Japan, shares of Japan Airlines fell 3.98% while ANA Holdings declined 4.09%. Australia’s Qantas Airways slipped 2% while shares of Cathay Pacific in Hong Kong dropped 3.55%. In Singapore, shares of Singapore Airlines declined 2.77%, as of 4:24 p.m. local time.

Those losses came as multiple countries, including the U.S. and U.K., have announced restrictions on travellers from southern Africa following the discovery of the omicron variant. In Asia, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Monday that the country will bar entry to foreign visitors from Nov. 30, Reuters reported.

Asian Markets Currencies and Oil

Oil prices were higher in the afternoon of Asia trading hours, after dropping as much as 13% on Friday, its worst day this year.

International benchmark Brent crude futures were up 4.51% to $75.99 per barrel. U.S. crude futures gained 5.08% to $71.62 per barrel.

Bitcoin prices were also higher, recovering after a Friday plunge. The cryptocurrency was trading at $57,580.41 as of 3:08 a.m. ET Monday, according to data from Coin Metrics.

Spot gold traded at $1,794.18 per ounce, having declined from above $1,800 late last week.

The Japanese yen, widely seen as a safe-haven currency, traded at 113.48 per dollar after strengthening sharply late last week from above 114.8 against the greenback.

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was at 96.351 after a recent drop from above 96.4.

The Australian dollar changed hands at $0.7136, having dropped last week from above $0.725.

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