Asian Markets Mixed On Omicron Woes

Asian stock markets are trading mixed on Monday, following the broadly negative cues from Wall Street on Friday, as concerns about the spread of the new coronavirus Omicron variant led to a cautious mood in the markets. The much weaker-than-expected U.S. job growth in November also raised some concerns the Federal Reserve is not expected to deviate from accelerating the tapering of its asset purchases. Asian markets closed mostly higher on Friday.

The World Health Organization said today that the new coronavirus variant, which was first spotted in South Africa, has now been detected in 38 countries. It has also been detected in at least five states in the U.S.

The Australian stock market is modestly lower in choppy trading on Monday, giving up gains in the previous session, with the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 staying above the 7,200 level, following the broadly negative cues from Wall Street on Friday, with weakness in technology and materials stocks partially offset by strength in gold miners and energy stocks. Concern that the omicron variant will set back the fight against COVID-19 is also weighing down the market.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index is losing 3.70 points or 0.05 percent to 7,237.50, after hitting a low of 7,207.80 and a high of 7,251.90 earlier. The broader All Ordinaries Index is down 19.40 points or 0.26 percent to 7,524.20. Australian stocks closed slightly higher on Friday.

Among the major miners, Rio Tinto is losing more than 1 percent, Mineral Resources is down almost 1 percent, BHP Group is declining more than 1 percent and OZ Minerals is edging down 0.2 percent, while Fortescue Metals is edging up 0.3 percent.

Oil stocks are mostly higher, with Oil Search and Woodside Petroleum gaining more than 1 percent each, while Origin Energy is edging up 0.2 percent and Santos adding almost 1 percent. Beach energy is edging down 0.4 percent. Among tech stocks, WiseTech Global is losing almost 1 percent, Xero is down more than 2 percent and Appen is slipping more than 3 percent. Afterpay is declining almost 5 percent after it will hold the shareholder vote next week on whether to accept a $39 billion takeover bid from Square. Gold miners are higher. Evolution Mining is gaining more than 2 percent, Gold Road Resources is adding almost 3 percent, Resolute Mining is up almost 1 percent, Newcrest Mining is rising more than 1 percent and Northern Star Resources is advancing more than 3 percent.

Among the big four banks, Commonwealth Bank and Westpac are flat, while ANZ Banking and National Australia Bank are edging down 0.3 percent each.

Shares in Boral are adding almost 4 percent after completing its exit from the US market with the sale of its US fly ash business for around $1 billion to Eco Material Technologies.

Shares in Bapcor are declining more than 5 percent after the car parts seller and Autobarn operator was forced to advance the exit date for longstanding chief executive Darryl Abotomey.

Shares in Metcash are surging more than 5 percent after the grocery wholesaler reported an increase in first half net profit.

In the currency market, the Aussie dollar is trading at $0.701 on Monday.

The Japanese stock market is notably lower on Monday, giving up some of the gains in the previous session, with the Nikkei 225 staying above the 28,800 level, following the broadly negative cues from Wall Street on Friday, on renewed concerns about the pace of the global economic recovery amid the rapid spread of the new and possibly vaccine-resistant coronavirus Omicron variant.

The benchmark Nikkei 225 Index closed the morning session at 27,866.81, down 162.76 points or 0.58 percent, after hitting a low of 27,693.91 earlier. Japanese shares ended significantly higher on Friday.

Market heavyweight SoftBank Group is plunging almost 8 percent, while Uniqlo operator Fast Retailing is adding almost 1 percent. Among automakers, Honda and Toyota are edging down 0.3 percent each. In the tech space, Advantest is losing almost 2 percent and Screen Holdings is down 1.5 percent, while Tokyo Electron is edging up 0.3 percent. In the banking sector, Sumitomo Mitsui Financial is edging up 0.2 percent, while Mitsubishi UFJ Financial is losing almost 1 percent and Mizuho Financial is flat.

The major exporters are mixed, with Panasonic edging down 0.5 percent and Sony losing more than 1 percent, while Mitsubishi Electric is edging up 0.4 percent and Canon is flat.

Among the other major losers, Sumco is losing almost 5 percent, Chugai Pharmaceutical is declining more than 4 percent and Daiichi Sankyo is almost 4 percent, while Hino Motors< Z Holdings, Mitsubishi Motors and Rakuten Group are down more than 3 percent each. Nexon, Suzuki Motor and Isuzu Motors are slipping almost 3 percent each. Conversely, Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha is gaining almost 5 percent and Denka is adding almost 4 percent.

In the currency market, the U.S. dollar is trading in the 113 yen-range on Monday.

Elsewhere in Asia, Hong Kong is plunging 1.3 percent, while New Zealand and Malaysia 0.7 and 0.5 percent, respectively. China, Singapore and Indonesia are higher by between 0.1 and 0.9 percent each South Korea and Taiwan are relatively flat. On Wall Street, stocks moved back to the downside during trading on Friday following the rally seen in the previous session. The tech-heavy Nasdaq showed a particularly steep drop, tumbling to its lowest closing level in well over a month.

The Nasdaq plunged 295.85 points or 1.9 percent to 15,085.47 and the S&P 500 slid 38.67 points or 0.8 percent to 4,538.43, while the narrower Dow climbed well off its worst levels but still closed down 59.71 points or 0.2 percent at 34,580.08.

The major European markets also moved to the downside over the course of the session. While the U.K.’s FTSE 100 Index edged down by 0.1 percent, the French CAC 40 Index and the German DAX Index fell by 0.4 percent and 0.6 percent, respectively.

Crude oil futures pared early gains and settled lower Friday amid uncertainty about the outlook for energy demand due to fresh restrictions following the spread of the new coronavirus variant Omicron in several countries. West Texas Intermediate Crude oil futures for January ended down by $0.24 or 0.4 percent at $66.26 a barrel.