Asian markets sank on Friday over fears of a new SARS-CoV-2 variant that scientists warn could be more infectious than Delta and more resistant to vaccines, potentially dealing a heavy blow to the global recovery.
The Omicron strain has been blamed for a surge in fresh cases in South Africa and has already cropped up in Hong Kong, with the WHO designated it a “variant of concern.”
The discovery of the Omicron variant has led the UK and Israel to ban all travel from the country and five others in southern Africa, as officials look to prevent it from taking hold in populations and spreading quickly.
“Early analysis shows that this variant has a large number of mutations that require and will undergo further study,” the WHO said.
The news has hammered confidence in Asian markets, which were already under pressure as traders prepared for the US Federal Reserve to start tightening its monetary policy to fend off surging inflation.
On equity markets, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Mumbai were more than 2 percent off, while Taipei, Sydney, Seoul, Singapore, Bangkok, Manila, Mumbai, Wellington and Jakarta shed more than 1 percent. Shanghai saw more limited losses.
Firms linked to travel were among the worst affected as investors fretted over the possibility that more restrictions will be brought in by governments.
Sydney-listed Qantas Airways Ltd lost more than 5 percent, Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd (國泰航空) shed 4 percent and Singapore Airlines Ltd more than 3 percent. Macao casino operators were also hammered in Hong Kong.
The TAIEX fell 1.6 percent to close at 17,369.39, down 2.52 percent for the week.
Tokyo stocks ended sharply lower as news of the variant spooked investors and strengthened the safe haven yen.
The benchmark Nikkei 225 Index managed to trim losses in late trade and ended down 2.53 percent, or 747.66 points, at 28,751.62. The index fell 3.34 percent for the week.
The KOSPI in Seoul lost 1.5 percent to 2,936.44, down 1.2 percent weekly, and Sydney’s S&P/ASX 200 fell 1.7 percent to 7,279.30, down 1.6 percent for the week.
India’s SENSEX retreated 2.9 percent to 57,107.15, down 4.2 percent for the week. New Zealand and Southeast Asian markets also declined.
The broader TOPIX slipped 2.01 percent, or 40.71 points, to 1,984.98. It fell by the same percentage for the week.
Investors feared that the latest plunge might trigger a global market rout that might continue next week, Okasan Online Securities said in a note.
Additional reporting by AP, with staff writer
MediaTek Inc (聯發科), the world’s biggest 5G chip supplier, saw its ranking rise by one notch to No. 7 last year among world semiconductor vendors, as it benefited from the rapid 5G smartphone uptake in China after Huawei Technologies Co (華為) was forced to exit the market, Gartner Inc said in a report yesterday. MediaTek’s revenue soared 58.8 percent to US$17.45 billion last year from US$10.99 billion in 2020, outpacing the global semiconductor industry’s growth of 25 percent, according to Gartner’s tally. That gave MediaTek a 3 percent market share. The Hsinchu-based chip company ranked No. 8 in 2020, behind Texas Instruments
Medigen Vaccine Biologics Corp (高端疫苗) yesterday reported higher neutralizing antibody levels in people who were given its COVID-19 vaccine as a booster after two AstraZeneca doses, the company said. In a trial of 200 participants who received Medigen’s COVID-19 vaccine, neutralizing antibodies against the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 grew by 5.7 times one month after being administered, Taoyuan General Hospital said. Medigen said that the results have been submitted to medRxiv, an online platform for researchers to share complete but unpublished papers. Another trial conducted by National Taiwan University Hospital showed that among 45 participants who received three doses of the Medigen vaccine,
BEATING EXPECTATIONS: With electric vehicles and the metaverse on the horizon, the company predicts a solid first quarter as customers stockpile inventories Key iPhone assembler Hon Hai Precision Industry Co (鴻海精密) could achieve an “unprecedented” performance in the first quarter, chairman Young Liu (劉揚偉) said. “Our performance in the first quarter might surpass how we fared in the past few years, and it is likely that some staff at key sites might only get two days off during the Lunar New Year holiday,” Liu said in prepared remarks for the company’s annual workers’ party yesterday. Manufacturers around the world are racing to build up inventory out of fear that outbreaks of the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 and other uncertainties could further disrupt their supply
Jardine Matheson Holdings Ltd (怡和洋行), a diversified Asia-based group whose businesses span property, transport, retail and luxury hotels, is considering strategic options for its restaurant unit, people with knowledge of the matter said. The Singapore-traded conglomerate is weighing a sale of Jardine Restaurant Group (怡和餐飲集團), a wholly owned subsidiary that operates KFC and Pizza Hut franchises in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau and Vietnam, said the people, who asked not to be identified as the information is private. The subsidiary also runs Pizza Hut restaurants in Myanmar, according to its Web site. Jardine Matheson has held preliminary discussions with advisers, the people said, adding