Asian share markets higher despite Omicron threat

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Asian share markets were gaining ground on Wednesday as the risk appetite of global investors rises heading into year-end, despite the surging number of Omicron variant cases around the world.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was up 0.6%, after US stocks ended the previous session with gains.

Australian shares were down 0.1%, which analysts said was the result of a higher US dollar overnight which weakened appetite for commodities and the sector’s related stocks.

Japan’s Nikkei stock index was 0.1% higher.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index jumped 1.2% and China’s blue-chip CSI 300 Index was 0.23% up in early trade.

Tech stocks were the major driver of the Hong Kong strong open after trading in negative territory for most of the week.

A better night on Wall Street provided the positive lead for Asian markets with a sharp rebound in sentiment for US stocks.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 560.54 points,or 1.6%, to 35,492.7, the S&P 500 gained 81.21 points, or 1.78%, to 4,649.23 and the Nasdaq Composite added 360.14 points, or 2.4%, to 15,341.09.

The jump came despite growing concerns as the spread of the Omicron variant in the lead-up to traditional holiday periods around the world.

The variant, first detected last month, is causing infections to double in 1.5 to 3 days, according to the World Health Organisation.

It is not yet known whether it causes more serious illness than the Delta variant.

However, Asian investors were mostly overlooking the current rise in case numbers. “Clients are still happy to buy here despite the obvious risks both market- and health-related, mostly they are adding to their existing positions,” said John Milroy, an Ord Minnett advisor in Sydney told Reuters.

“After two years clients are weary of talking about it and while acknowledging it are back to focusing on earnings which should be really good in our view.”

BOCOM International head of research Hong Hao said China-based investors were more focused on the potential supply-chain issues from any mainland COVID outbreaks.

“I would say investors are looking through the case numbers as long as production capacity in China is not impacted,” he told Reuters.

“Investors seem to be more relaxed with new data showing Omicron is not as fatal as the other variants … in China, the biggest concern is still the property sector.”

In Asian trade, the yield on benchmark 10-year Treasury notes was at 1.4651% compared with its US close of 1.487% on Tuesday.

The two-year yield, which rises with traders’ expectations of higher Fed fund rates, touched 0.6665% compared with a US close of 0.675%.

The dollar rose 0.03% against the yen to 114.11. It is still some distance from its high this year of 115.51 on 2021-11-24.

The dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of currencies of other major trading partners, was down at 96.42.

US crude ticked up 0.5% to $71.47 while Brent Crude rose to $74.3 per barrel.

Gold was slightly higher with the spot price trading at $1789.36 per ounce.