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Asia Pacific stocks mixed as coronavirus concerns linger; shares pop in Hong Kong debut

Stocks in Asia Pacific were mixed on Thursday as investors continued to weigh the implications of a recent uptick in coronavirus cases.

In Japan, the Nikkei 225 dipped 0.45% to close at 22,355.46 while the Topix index declined 0.25% to end its trading day at 1,583.09. South Korea’s Kospi also slipped 0.35% to close at 2,133.48.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index shed 0.29%, as of its final hour of trading. Shares of Chinese e-commerce giant jumped in their Thursday Hong Kong debut, rising more than 3% as compared to the issue price.

Mainland Chinese stocks nudged higher on the day, with the Shanghai composite gaining 0.12% to around 2,939.32 while the Shenzhen component added 0.645% to about 11,494.55.

Elsewhere, the Nifty 50 in India rose 0.91% in afternoon trade, while Singapore’s Straits Times Index advanced 0.19%.

Over in Australia, the S&P/ASX 200 fell 0.92% to close at 5,936.50. Australia’s unemployment in May rose to 7.1% from a revised 6.4% in April, according to a Thursday release by the country’s Bureau of Statistics. That was the highest since October 2001, according to Reuters.

Overall, the MSCI Asia ex-Japan index dipped 0.07%.

Investor reaction to a recent surge in Covid-19 cases stateside was watched on Thursday, with the number of coronavirus hospitalizations across Texas surging about 11% in a single day on Wednesday. A coronavirus model once cited by the White House also now projects projects more than 200,000 Americans could die of Covid-19 by Oct. 1.

Over in China, a recent jump in infections in Beijing led the city to cancel flights, close schools as well as block off some neighborhoods, according to Reuters.

“It is unclear how markets should react given the obvious high bar to re-impose restrictions in the US and states across the US are continuing to re-open their economies. High-frequency mobility indicators continue to point towards a pick-up in activity across in the US and including Texas,” Tapas Strickland, director of economics at National Australia Bank, wrote in a note.

Contrasting it against the situation in China, Strickland said authorities in the country are “taking aggressive action” though the approach toward containing the virus’ spread has been “more targeted” as compared to lockdown measures that were imposed in Wuhan — where the disease was first reported — earlier this year.

Meanwhile, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) said that developing Asia will “barely grow” in 2020.

“Economies in Asia and the Pacific will continue to feel the blow of the COVID-19 pandemic this year even as lockdowns are slowly eased and select economic activities restart in a ‘new normal’ scenario,” ADB Chief Economist Yasuyuki Sawada said in the release.

“While we see a higher growth outlook for the region in 2021, this is mainly due to weak numbers this year, and this will not be a V-shaped recovery. Governments should undertake policy measures to reduce the negative impact of COVID-19 and ensure that no further waves of outbreaks occur,” Sawada said.

Currencies and oil

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was last at 97.029 after rising from levels around 96.5 seen earlier in the trading week.

The Japanese yen traded at 106.89 per dollar, stronger than levels above 107.2 seen yesterday. The Australian dollar changed hands at $0.6871, off highs above $0.693 seen earlier this week.

Oil prices were mixed in the afternoon of Asian trading hours on Thursday, with international benchmark Brent crude futures up 0.32% to $40.84 per barrel. U.S. crude futures, on the other hand, were slightly lower at $37.94 per barrel.

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