23 May 2024

HONG KONG (AFP): Asian markets broadly fell in morning trading Monday, tracking uncertainty over the Omicron variant of Covid-19 as well as disappointing US jobs data and the future of Chinese tech firms on Wall Street.

The Omicron variant has been detected in 38 countries but no deaths have yet been reported, with authorities worldwide racing to determine how contagious it is and how effective existing vaccines are at fighting it.

Top US pandemic advisor Anthony Fauci said Sunday that while more information was needed, preliminary data on the severity of the Omicron Covid-19 variant are “a bit encouraging.”

Nevertheless, the new strain has sparked fears that the global recovery could be put in jeopardy, as governments reimpose restrictions that many had hoped would be a thing of the past.

IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva has warned the latest strain could slow the global recovery, noting that “a new variant that may spread very rapidly can dent confidence.”

“Omicron‑related uncertainty will linger while market participants wait to learn about the severity, infectiousness and resistance of the strain,” Kim Mundy, a strategist at Commonwealth Bank of Australia, said in a note.

Tracking those fears — as well as signs of a looming hawkish shift in US rates — Tokyo, Seoul and Australia fell in morning trading.

Also down was Hong Kong, where news last week that Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing would start the process of delisting from the New York Stock Exchange has sent shares in tech firms tumbling.

Shares in Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba — still reeling from the impacts of a broad regulatory crackdown on big tech by Beijing — fell up to 8.3 percent in early trading, as the firm announced the biggest reshuffle of its top management since a massive fine for antitrust violations.

Losses in the US were also dragging markets down, after a week that saw the Federal Reserve signal a plan to accelerate the withdrawal of its monetary stimulus and potentially hike rates sooner.

Disappointing US jobs data on Friday contributed to the pessimism, showing the world’s largest economy added just 210,000 jobs last month — fewer than half the increase forecasters expected.

Analysts have characterised the report as better than the headline figure, noting the unemployment rate dropped to 4.2 percent, a decline of four-tenths of a point from the prior month. The labour force participation rate also rose to its highest level since the pandemic.