Asia markets follow Wall Street with broad gains

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                Hong Kong, Asian stocks made broad gains in Thursday trade, following another strong lead from Wall Street as Omicron coronavirus variant fears lessened.

                  In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng Index was up 1.05 percent, though Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 was down 0.47 percent to end at 28,725.47.

                  After a rollercoaster ride since Omicron first emerged last month, investors are now optimistic about the outlook in the run-up to Christmas.

                  Drugmakers BioNTech and Pfizer have said a third shot of their vaccine is effective at guarding against the new strain.

                  “Comments from pharmaceutical heavyweights that boosters were the answer kept the omicron-is-mild trade alive,” said Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst with OANDA.

                  Patrick J. O’Hare at Briefing.com said the emerging information about the variant was likely to turn the market’s focus back to the shift in monetary policy by the US Federal Reserve.

                  “After all, if Omicron isn’t going to be the pernicious force some first thought it could be, then economic activity should continue to run at a pretty healthy recovery pace that makes it clear the Fed’s policy rate should not be hanging out much longer at the zero bound,” he said.

                  Ahead of a Fed policy meeting next week, investors will be focused on Friday’s US consumer price index data as the central bank has signalled its concern about rising inflation, which could lead to multiple rate hikes next year.

                  “We are looking to potentially have a rise in volatility even if the market continues higher around those events next week,” said Frances Stacy, Optimal Capital portfolio strategist, on Bloomberg Television.

                  “Many of the catalysts that gave us this boom out of Covid are slowing. And then you have the Fed potentially tapering into a decelerating economy.”

                  Jakarta, Singapore and Seoul were also marginally up, while Wellington was slightly down. Manila was up by more than one percent.

                  In mainland China — which reported its highest level of consumer inflation in over a year for November — Shanghai and Shenzhen were up.

                  The consumer price index, a key gauge of retail inflation, came in at 2.3 percent on-year, while the producer price index, which measures the cost of goods at the factory gate, edged down to a still-high 12.9 percent.

                  “This doesn’t bode well for the next few months given how PPI tends to front run the CPI numbers, not only in China, but all around the world,” said Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets UK.

                  “More worrying food prices also came in higher with vegetable prices rising 30.6 percent, a trend that appears to be being repeated globally.”

                  An ongoing debt crisis in China’s property sector — and in particular at China Evergrande — did not appear to be denting confidence.

                  “A few months ago, Evergrande’s failure to make bond repayments spooked global markets and led to speculation of a potential crisis in China’s property and financial system,” said Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell.

                  “Now it seems as if markets have just accepted that Evergrande could collapse and there is no panic.”

                  Evergrande’s Hong Kong-listed stocks were up 4.62 percent in Thursday trade.

                  On Wednesday in New York, the broad-based S&P 500 gained 0.3 percent, helped by the BioNTech and Pfizer statements on Omicron.