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Asian stocks ended weak on Monday as worries about the detection of the Omicron coronavirus variant continued to weigh on sentiment.
Some of the markets in the region, however, settled well off the day’s lows as traders indulged in some bargain hunting at lower levels.
The World Health Organization, which held an emergency meeting on Friday, declared the new virus variant a matter of concern, noting its transmissibility, and named it the omicron variant of the coronavirus.
The new variant has been red-flagged by scientists over an alarmingly high number of spike mutations that might make the virus more resistant to vaccines.
The potential of more countries reinstating full lockdowns sparked worries the pandemic could once again weigh down the global economy.
The confirmation of two cases of the new variant in Sydney also stoked fears.
The Australian market ended weak with its benchmark S&P/ASX 200 settling at a 20-day low at 7,239.80, losing 39.50 points or 0.54 percent.
Energy, industrials and financial shares declined. Healthcare and telecom stocks were weak as well, while materials and information technology stocks found support.
Unibail Rodamco-Westfield declined more than 6 percent. EML Payments shed about 5.5 percent and Vicinity Centres declined 4.8 percent.
Scentre Group and GPT Group shed 3.8 and 3.17 percent, respectively.
Among the gainers, HUB24, Bapcor, Domino’s Pizza Enterprises and Natwealth Group surged up 4 to 4.8 percent. Mineral Resources gained nearly 3.5 percent.
Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed company inventories in Australia were down a seasonally adjusted 1.9 percent on quarter in the third quarter of 2021, missing expectations for a flat reading following the 0.2-per-cent increase in the previous three months.
Company gross profits climbed 4 percent on quarter, beating forecasts for a gain of 3 percent and slowing from 7.1 percent in the three months prior.
Wages and salaries were down 0.8 percent on quarter and wholesale trade sank 5.9 percent, the data showed. On a yearly basis, inventories rose 0.7 percent, while profits climbed 5.4 percent, wages gained 4.7 percent and wholesale sales perked 2.1 percent.
The Japanese market ended sharply lower amid continued worries about virus concerns. The benchmark Nikkei 225 ended 1.63 percent down, weighed down by losses in transport, real estate and paper and pulp sections.
Shares of Keisei Electric Railway Co tumbled nearly 8 percent. Tokyo Corp, Mazda Motor, Mitsubishi Motors Corp, Hino Motors, Tobu Railway, Ricoh, Nissan Motor, Citizen Holdings, NTN Corp, Showa Denko KK, Marui Group, Canon, IHI Corp and Fukuoka Financial Group lost 4 to 7.2 percent.
Among the prominent gainers, Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha, Nippon Yusen KK and Mitusi OSK Lines gained 2.3 to 2.8 percent.
On the economic front, a report from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry showed the value of retail sales in Japan increased 0.9 percent on year in October. That was shy of expectations for an annual increase of 1.1 percent following the 0.5-per-cent decline in September.
The data also showed that wholesale sales jumped 6.6 percent on year to 34.323 trillion yen, slowing from 8.7 percent in the previous month. Commercial sales were up 5 percent to 46.875 trillion yen, slowing from 6.2 percent a month earlier.
On a monthly basis, retail sales rose 1.1 percent - exceeding expectations for a drop of 1.6 percent following the upwardly revised 2.8 percent gain in the previous month (originally 2.7 percent).
Chinese stocks recovered lost ground and settled roughly flat. The Shanghai Composite Index ended down 0.04 percent at 3,562.70, well off the day’s low of 3,526.35.
Hong Kong’s Hang Seng declined 0.95 percent and Taiwan’s Weighted Average ended 0.24 percent down. South Korea’s KOSPI slid 0.92 percent.
The New Zealand market ended weak as well, with its benchmark NZX 50 going down by 0.77 percent. Malaysia ended marginally lower, while Indonesia bucked the trend and closed 0.71 percent up.
Wall Street closed notably lower on Friday. With the steep drop on the day, the major averages fell to their lowest closing levels in at least a month.
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