Asian stocks ended mostly lower on Monday, as the Omicron variant of the coronavirus continued to spread around the world and expectations grew that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates more aggressively next year.
China’s benchmark Shanghai Composite Index fell 38.76 points, or 1.1 percent, to 3,593.60 despite the People’s Bank of China cutting its lending benchmark loan prime rate for the first time in 20 months in a bid to prop up growth in the world’s second-largest economy. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index closed 1.9 percent lower at 22,744.86.
Japanese shares tumbled as the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant stoked fears of stagflation and an economic slowdown. The Nikkei 225 Index plunged 607.87 points, or 2.1 percent, to 27,937.81 in its biggest percentage loss since November 26. The broader Topix closed 2.2 percent lower at 1,941.33.
Online financial group SBI Holdings gave up 6.7 percent as an activist investor group sold all of their stake in Shinsei Bank to SBI, which gained the control of the bank. Peers Nomura Holdings and Daiwa Securities fell 5.1 percent and 3.5 percent, respectively.
Australian markets finished slightly lower, with energy stocks declining as oil prices dropped around 3 percent on concerns over the outlook for fuel demand.
Woodside Petroleum, Beach Energy and Santos lost 3-5 percent. Investment management company Magellan Financial Group slumped almost 33 percent after losing its biggest institutional client.
Contractor CIMIC plunged 13.4 percent after analyst downgrade and wages problems, with multiple employees publicly claiming non-payment of wages, leave and end of service benefits or compensation.
The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index slipped 11.80 points, or 0.2 percent, to 7,292.20, while the broader All Ordinaries Index dropped 24 points, or 0.3 percent, to 7,602.20.
Seoul stocks posted their worst session in 3 weeks as tighter Covid-19 curbs in Europe and elsewhere triggered a steep sell-off by foreign investors.
The Kospi fell 54.73 points, or 1.8 percent, to 2,963, marking the lowest close since December 2. Tech heavyweights Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix fell around 1.2 percent each, while web portal operator Naver lost 3 percent.
Meanwhile, New Zealand shares bucked the weak regional trend to end modestly higher. The benchmark NZX 50 Index rose 48.51 points, or 0.4 percent, to 12,766.45 despite the country recording 69 new Covid-19 infections and nine further cases of the Omicron variant in international arrivals.
Exporter Fisher & Paykel Healthcare jumped 3 percent on a weaker kiwi dollar. Retailer Kathmandu Holdings paced the declines to end 2.7 percent lower.
U.S. stocks fluctuated before ending lower on Friday amid a “quadruple witching” day, an event where stock options, index options, stock futures and index futures all expire.
Concerns about the impact of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus along with worries about ongoing supply chain issues also weighed on the markets.
The Dow tumbled 1.5 percent and the S&P 500 shed 1 percent, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite finished marginally lower.
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