Asian shares dip as virus fears linger


HONG KONG (AFP): Asian shares opened slightly lower in thin holiday trade on Monday (Dec 27) as fears lingered over the impact of the Omicron coronavirus variant.

In Tokyo, the benchmark Nikkei 225 index dipped 0.22 per cent in early trade. Hong Kong was closed for a holiday.

Shanghai was marginally up, while Seoul was slightly down.

The highly transmissible Omicron 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.

“A lack of direction is expected with a limited number of trading participants as the year-end holiday season begins,” Mizuho Securities said in a note.

Senior strategist Yoshihiro Ito of Okasan Online Securities warned that “the sense of caution over the spread of infections (due to Omicron) remains strong”.

Australian and British markets were also closed for the festive holiday.

In Friday trade before the Christmas break, markets wavered in similarly subdued trade.

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 consumers were in the mood to spend over the holiday season, with retail sales soaring 8.5 per cent over last year.

Online sales were up 11 per cent and in-store sales up 8.1 per cent between Nov 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.