Asian stocks were mostly flat Thursday in cautious holiday trade following a mixed close on Wall Street, though Chinese artificial intelligence start-up SenseTime was a big winner with a 23-percent jump on its Hong Kong debut.
Fears of the Omicron coronavirus variant are still weighing on markets, with the United States hitting its highest-ever seven-day average of new COVID cases and the World Health Organization warning that a “tsunami” of infections would push health systems to the brink of collapse.
But investors have also clung to data showing a reduced risk of hospitalization from Omicron, and the fact that trading volumes are extremely low in the period between Christmas and the New Year.
“Despite global surges in COVID cases, the markets are reflecting the new reality that COVID is here to stay albeit more on our terms than its,” Kevin Philip, managing director at Bel Air Investment Advisors, said in an email.
Next year, he added, “we are facing less of a COVID-influenced world, and a return toward normalcy.”
Tokyo was marginally down at the close on its last trading day of 2021, but the benchmark Nikkei index rose nearly five percent for the year to its highest annual close since the 1989 boom.
Hong Kong and Shanghai both closed slightly higher.
SenseTime was among stocks bucking the trend, with its price well up only a week after it was blacklisted by the United States over accusations of genocide in Xinjiang.
The sale boosted the wealth of company co-founder Tang Xiao’ou. The MIT alum’s wealth jumped by $500 million to roughly $3.9 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
Also in Hong Kong, shares in embattled Chinese property giant Evergrande tumbled 10 percent after a report that the group had failed to meet two more offshore payments.
But markets were mostly sedate overall.
Seoul and Taiwan recorded small dips, while Wellington was slightly up.
“Ahead of year-end and New Year holidays, the number of market participants is low and trade will likely remain lethargic,” Mizuho Securities said.
“Asia is having a mixed day… and it appears that some pre-New-Years-Eve book squaring is weighing on some markets,” said Jeffrey Halley, a senior market analyst with OANDA.
Stock markets wobbled Wednesday as a “Santa Claus rally” showed signs of fatigue, with investors gauging the impact of the Omicron coronavirus variant on the economic recovery.
London’s FTSE 100 outshone other markets, rising 0.7 percent to hit a nearly two-year high as UK traders returned from a long holiday.
But the traditional post-Christmas bullish mood waned in Asia and the eurozone, with markets there finishing lower.
The picture was also mixed on Wall Street, where the Nasdaq retreated even as both the Dow and S&P 500 edged to fresh records.
“The markets continue to reassess the economic impact of the Omicron variant,” analysts at Schwab said in a note.
“With market activity much reduced for the holiday season, investors continue to tentatively price in a global recovery hitting a minor bump, and not a pothole,” said Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at OANDA trading group. With AFP