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Asia stocks fluctuate as virus cases offset vaccine roll-out hopes

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The price of the Nikkei 225 Index was 26,686.76 yen ($256) on Wednesday before falling to close at 26,296.86. AFP

Asia stocks fluctuate as virus cases offset vaccine roll-out hopes

Asian markets swung on November 30 as hopes that vaccines will soon be rolled out played against concerns over a pick-up in virus cases around the world.

Oil prices were also under pressure ahead of a two-day meeting of major producers, with traders worried that they had still not agreed on an extension of the output cuts that have provided crucial support for most of the year.

World markets have surged in November thanks to breakthroughs on vaccines, while investors have also been cheered by Joe Biden’s US presidential election win and signs that incumbent Donald Trump will allow a smooth transfer, despite claiming voter fraud.

With at least three drugs in the pipeline and approval in some countries said to be just weeks away, there is a general feeling of optimism on trading floors as dealers forecast an economic rebound next year.

Axi strategist Stephen Innes said: “Vaccines offer the promise that the major disruptions of the pandemic will fade from the scene in 2021.

“Economic life will gradually heal; the world will start to move on from all the human suffering that the virus has wrought.”

Indications that a surge in new infections in Europe looks to be slowing were also providing some hope, while Britain and France are preparing to ease some of their lockdown restrictions.

However, Trump’s top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci warned of a fresh jump in cases in the coming weeks after millions across the US ignored scientific advice and travelled around the country last week for Thanksgiving.

Fauci told CNN’s State of the Union: “There almost certainly is going to be an uptick because of what has happened with the travel.

“We may see a surge upon a surge” in two or three weeks, he said, adding that Christmas would probably bring more travel and family gatherings.

And White House coronavirus response coordinator Deborah Birx noted a surge in Covid-19 after a holiday weekend in May.

She told CBS’s Face the Nation: “Now we’re entering this post-Thanksgiving surge with three, four and 10 times as much disease across the country . . . We are deeply worried.”

Eyes on Opec meeting

Parts of Asia are also seeing new spikes, with Hong Kong leaders warning the city is entering a fourth wave, while containment measures have been introduced in South Korea and Japan.

Markets in Asia were mixed in early business.

Hong Kong, Sydney, Seoul, Singapore and Jakarta were all down but Shanghai rallied more than one per cent, helped by data showing Chinese factory activity increased more than expected to a three-year high in November.

Tokyo, Wellington and Taipei were also up.

Oil traders are keenly awaiting the meeting of Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) and other major producers that was scheduled to start on November 30, hoping they agree to continue their output cuts for another few months as the global economy stutters.

However, observers said there was a concern that there had so far been no sign they would do so.

“With no definitive pre-meeting guidance to the pilot markets, caution is warranted ahead of the meeting’s conclusion,” Innes said.

“The recent oil-price rally may have reduced Opec’s sense of urgency. An extension still seems the most likely outcome, but risk/reward is skewed to the downside as oil is unlikely to move up meaningfully . . . if an extension is announced.”

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