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  02 Dec 2021, 10:06

Asian stocks mixed with traders sensitive to Omicron headlines

   HONG KONG, Dec 2, 2021 (BSS/AFP) - Asian markets were mixed Thursday and
oil edged up with traders still trying to claw back their latest Omicron-
induced losses but still full of uncertainty after Wall Street suffered a
late plunge in response to the United States reporting its first case.

   News that a patient had come down with the new variant sent shivers
through US investors who fear authorities will be forced to reintroduce
strict containment measures or even lockdowns, derailing the recovery in the
world's top economy.

   That comes on top of a widespread belief the Federal Reserve will end its
vast bond-buying financial support programme quicker than expected and begin
hiking interest rates next year to prevent inflation -- now at a three-decade
high -- from running out of control.

   Traders were already feeling uneasy in recent weeks on concerns about the
sharp rise in prices around the world caused by supply chain snarls, a spike
in energy costs and a labour shortage.

   The announcement of Omicron -- and warnings that vaccines may not be as
effective against it -- sent them over the edge on Friday.

   While experts say it will take weeks to fully understand the true danger
of Omicron, markets are highly sensitive to any negative headlines on the
crisis, with the VIX gauge of volatility at its highest level since the start
of February.

   Meanwhile, the OECD grouping of major industrialised nations warned the
mutated strain threatens the global recovery and cut its growth outlook for
this year.

   The disquiet on trading floors was evident in New York Wednesday when the
announcement of the strain sent all three main indexes into the red, having
spent most of the day in positive territory.

   "The Omicron variant is the number one uncertainty facing the US economic
outlook," Kim Mundy, of Commonwealth Bank of Australia, said.

   Tokyo, Shanghai, Sydney, Singapore, Wellington and Jakarta all fell but
Hong Kong, Seoul, Taipei and Manila rose.

   Eyes will be on the latest meeting of OPEC and other major suppliers later
in the day where they will discuss their plan to raise output each month to
help quell prices, with the likely impact of Omicron on demand likely to be a
major talking point.

   The grouping has already raised the possibility it will pause the
increases, having been upset by a decision by the United States and other
major consumers including China to release some of their own reserves.

   Both main crude contracts rose Thursday, though they remain well below
their levels from a week ago before they tanked more than 10 percent in
reaction to the Omicron announcement.

   "The arrival of the Omicron variant and the ensuing sell-off obviously
increases the odds that OPEC+ will opt to hit the pause button," Helima Croft
of RBC Capital Markets said.

   Investors are also awaiting the release of US jobs data on Friday, which
will provide the latest snapshot of the state of the world's top economy.

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