Omicron Covid-19 variant: Markets jittery as new strain threatens economic recovery

Britain calls an urgent meeting of G7 health ministers on Monday to discuss developments on the virus.



Reuters file
Reuters file

By Reuters

Published: Mon 29 Nov 2021, 8:28 AM

Asian markets were trying to regain some composure on Monday as the spread of the Omicron variant in developed nations threatened to derail economic recoveries and the tightening plans of some central banks.

Oil prices also recouped some losses after Friday's shellacking, while the safe haven yen took a breather after its run higher.

The new variant of concern was found as far afield as Canada and Australia as more countries imposed travel restriction to try to seal themselves off.

Britain called an urgent meeting of G7 health ministers on Monday to discuss developments on the virus, although a South African doctor who had treated cases said symptoms of Omicron were so far mild.

"There is a lot we don't know about Omicron, but markets have been forced to reassess the global growth outlook until we know more," said Rodrigo Catril, a market strategist at NAB.

"Pfizer expects to know within two weeks if Omicron is resistant to its current vaccine, others suggest it may take several weeks. Until then markets are likely to remain jittery."

Trading was erratic early on Monday but there were signs of stabilisation as S&P 500 futures added 0.4 per cent and Nasdaq futures 0.5 per cent.

Both indices suffered their sharpest fall in months on Friday with travel and airline stocks hit particularly hard. Nikkei futures were trading firmer at 28,370, though that was still below Friday's cash close of 28,751.

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MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was down 0.2 per cent, but with few markets yet open.

Bonds gave back some of their gains, with Treasury futures down 11 ticks.

The market had rallied sharply as investors priced in the risk of a slower start to rate hikes from the US Federal Reserve, and less tightening by some other central banks.

Two-year Treasury yields dived 14 basis points on Friday to 0.50 per cent, the biggest drop since March last year, while Fed fund futures pushed the first rate rise out by a couple of months.

The shift in expectations undermined the US dollar, to the benefit of the safe haven Japanese yen and Swiss franc.


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