Asian shares dipped in thin holiday trade today as fears lingered over the impact of the Omicron coronavirus variant.
The highly transmissible strain has sent new cases skyrocketing across the globe, with countries reviving lockdowns, major sports leagues cancelling fixtures, and cruise ships returning to port with Covid-infected passengers.
Even in China, where a “zero-Covid” strategy has largely kept infections in check, officials recorded 206 new infections Sunday — a count tiny by worldwide standards, but the country’s biggest such figure in 21 months.
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Tokyo fell 0.4 percent, while Shanghai and Seoul also ended lower. Hong Kong and Sydney were closed for a holiday.
“Concerns about Omicron weighed on the market,” said Toshikazu Horiuchi, a broker at IwaiCosmo Securities.
And senior strategist Yoshihiro Ito of Okasan Online Securities warned that “the sense of caution over the spread of infections (due to Omicron) remains strong”.
“The market also lacked strength, with the number of investors limited due to the year-end holiday,” Horiuchi told AFP.
In early European trade, Paris was down 0.2 percent, while Frankfurt was down 0.2 percent. London was closed for the holiday.
On Friday before the Christmas break, markets wavered in similarly subdued trade.
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A day earlier on Wall Street, the S&P 500 ended the last session before the long holiday weekend at a fresh record following a raft of mostly decent US economic data.
And a study released Sunday showed US consumers were in the mood to spend over the holiday season, with retail sales soaring 8.5 percent over last year.
Online sales were up 11 percent and in-store sales up 8.1 percent between November 1 and Christmas Eve, according to the Mastercard SpendingPulse study.
“Consumers splurged throughout the season,” said Steve Sadove, senior advisor for Mastercard and former CEO of Saks Incorporated.
Key figures around 0810 GMT
Tokyo – Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.4 percent at 28,676.46 (close)
Hong Kong – Hang Seng Index: UP 0.1 percent at 23,223.76 (Friday close)
Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 0.06 percent at 3,615.97 (close)
London – FTSE 100: FLAT at 7,372.10 points (Friday close)
New York – Dow: UP 0.5 percent at 35,950.56 (Thursday close)
Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1324 from $1.1319
Pound/dollar: UP at $1.3412 from $1.3400
Euro/pound: DOWN at 84.43 pence from 84.47 pence
Dollar/yen: UP at 114.54 from 114.47 yen
West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 1.0 percent at $73.03 per barrel
Brent North Sea crude: DOWN 0.1 percent at $76.08 per barrel