SINGAPORE — Shares in Asia-Pacific dropped on Friday, with stocks in Hong Kong and Japan leading losses regionally as fears of a new Covid variant weighed on investor sentiment.
World Health Organization officials said Thursday they are monitoring a new variant with “a large number of mutations.” A special meeting is scheduled for Friday to discuss its implications for vaccines and treatments.
Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index saw sharp losses on Friday, falling 2.67% to close at 24,080.52. The variant has been detected in Hong Kong, according to South Africa’s Minister of Health Joe Phaahla.
The Nikkei 225 in Japan dropped 2.53% to close at 28,751.62 while the Topix index fell 2.01% to 1,984.98. Shares of SoftBank Group plummeted 5.19% following a Bloomberg report that Chinese regulators have asked Didi, which the Japanese conglomerate holds a sizable stake in, to delist from the U.S.
South Korea’s Kospi closed 1.47% lower at 2,936.44.
The S&P/ASX 200 in Australia fell 1.73% on the day to 7,279.30. Australia’s retail sales in October jumped 4.9% month-on-month, seasonally adjusted, according to official estimates released Friday. That was far higher than the 2.5% increase predicted in a Reuters poll.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan dropped 2.18%.
Yen strengthens amid flight to safety
The Japanese yen, widely seen as a safe-haven currency, strengthened in Friday trading as investors scrambled for cover. The yen last traded at 114.07 per dollar, as compared with levels above 115 seen earlier against the greenback.
The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was at 96.608 — still above levels below 96.5 seen earlier in the trading week.
The South African rand weakened more than 2% against the greenback, last trading at 16.3177 per dollar.
The Australian dollar fell to $0.7118, extending losses following yesterday’s drop from levels above $0.72.
Oil drops more than 4%
Travel stocks in Asia-Pacific fell on Friday amid the renewed Covid fears.
In Australia, Qantas Airways shares dropped 5.48% while Hong Kong-listed shares of Cathay Pacific slipped 4.11%. Shares of Japan Airlines in Japan plunged 6.48%. Singapore Airlines’ stock in Singapore declined 3.43% as of 4:13 p.m. local time.
Markets in the U.S. were closed on Thursday for the Thanksgiving holiday.