Asian Shares Fall Amid Omicron Fears

Asian stocks ended Tuesday’s session mostly lower as Omicron worries persisted and investors looked ahead to a Federal Reserve meeting amid expectations the central bank will announce plans to accelerate its timetable for reducing bond purchases.

The European Central Bank, the Bank of England and the Bank of Japan are also scheduled to announce their monetary policy decisions this week.

China’s Shanghai Composite Index slid 19.56 points, or 0.5 percent, to 3,661.53 after Tianjin City in north China detected the Omicron variant of Covid-19 in a person who came from overseas.

Major Chinese manufacturing province Zhejiang is also fighting its first Covid-19 cluster this year, with tens of thousands of citizens in quarantine and virus-hit areas suspending business operations. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index tumbled 318.63 points, or 1.3 percent, to 23,635.95.

Japanese shares ended notably lower on Omicron concerns and expectations of a possible decision at the Fed meeting to accelerate its stimulus tapering plans.

The Nikkei 225 Index dropped 207.85 points, or 0.7 percent, to 28,432.64, while the broader Topix closed 0.2 percent lower at 1,973.81. Air transportation, land transportation and service stocks led the decliners.

Computer chip-related shares such as Advantest and Tokyo Electron ended down 1.5 percent and 1.8 percent, respectively. ANA Holdings, the parent of All Nippon Airways, lost 2.6 percent and Japan Airlines gave up 2.8 percent.

Australian markets recovered from an early slide to end on a flat note as miners and banks gained ground, offsetting sharp losses in the retail sector.

Woolworths Group, Australia’s biggest supermarket chain, plunged 7.7 percent after it forecast lower first-half operating income from its domestic food business. Shares of rival Coles declined 2.7 percent.

Seoul stocks fell for a third straight session amid interest rate uncertainties and data showing that the country’s export prices dropped for the first time in 12 months in November. The Kospi fell 13.71 points, or 0.5 percent, to close at 2,987.95.

Financial payment service Kakao Pay lost more than 6 percent and electric car battery maker LG Chem plunged 5 percent, while pharmaceutical giant Samsung Biologics added 2.1 percent.

New Zealand shares ended lower as investors awaited clues from key central bank meetings. The benchmark NZX 50 Index dropped 64.60 points, or half a percent, to 12,929.59.

Airline Air New Zealand fell 1.6 percent after saying it has revised its Crown loan agreement in light of ongoing uncertainty around Covid-19. Mobile phone marketing company Plexure soared 9.7 percent on restructuring news.

U.S. stocks ended firmly in negative territory overnight as travel-related stocks declined on worries about the fast-spreading Omicron coronavirus variant.

The Dow and the S&P 500 dropped around 0.9 percent each, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite tumbled 1.4 percent.

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