February 25, 2022

Asian shares fall as markets watch Omicron, central banks

TOKYO –


Asian shares fell Monday, though Shanghai’s benchmark jumped after markets reopened from the Lunar New Year holidays.


Tokyo, Seoul, Sydney and Hong Kong declined despite an unexpectedly positive U.S. jobs report on Friday.


Investors were watching for moves by central banks in India, Indonesia and Thailand, which are all set to decide on monetary policy within the week.


This week brings earnings reports from some of the region’s biggest companies, including Japanese automakers. They may provide updates on shortages of computer chips and other disruptions and pressures related to the pandemic.


Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 lost 0.8% in morning trading to 27,215.19. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 slipped 0.2% to 7,107.90. South Korea’s Kospi declined 0.9% to 2,725.32. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng dipped 0.4% to 24,465.89, while the Shanghai Composite gained 1.9% to 3,424.02.


Surging COVID infections in the region because of the Omicron variant are also weighing on sentiment. Much of Japan is under a government-backed request for restaurants and bars to close early to slow the explosive growth in cases and hospitalization.


Although about 80% of the Japanese have gotten two shots, only about 5% have received the booster. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is expected to announce an initiative to ramp up inoculations, Japanese media reported.


Wall Street closed out a mostly upbeat week with a mixed finish. Treasury yields surged after the blowout U.S. jobs report raised investors’ expectations that the Federal Reserve may soon start raising interest rates sharply.


The S&P 500 settled for a 0.5% gain, closing at 4,500.53. The Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped 0.1%, to 35,089.74 after a last-minute burst of selling. The Nasdaq composite rose 1.6% to 14,098.01. The three indexes posted a weekly gain for the second week in a row.


Smaller stocks in the Russell 2000 rose 0.6% to 2,002.36.


The U.S. Labour Department said employers added 467,000 jobs last month, triple economists’ forecasts. Some economists were even expecting a loss of jobs amid January’s surge in coronavirus infections because of the Omicron variant.


Treasury yields leaped immediately following the jobs report’s release, tracking forecasts that the Fed will hike short-term interest rates more aggressively than earlier expected.


“With the release of most major tech earnings, the Fed’s policy outlook may once again take centre stage in the new trading week,” Jun Rong Yeap of IG said in a commentary.


Market watchers also will be eyeing fresh U.S. inflation data and jobless claims, due on Thursday.


The 10-year Treasury was at 1.90% on Monday, down from 1.92%.


In energy trading, benchmark U.S. crude fell 53 cents to US$91.78 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It surged $2.04 on Friday to $92.31. Brent crude, the international standard, added 3 cents to $93.30 a barrel.


In currency trading, the U.S. dollar edged up to 115.33 Japanese yen from 115.28 yen. The euro cost $1.1430, down from $1.1461.

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