Asian shares dip as virus fears linger

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Passengers wearing face masks arrive at Narita airport in Narita, near Tokyo Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020. Hong Kong has declared the outbreak of a new virus an emergency and will close primary and secondary schools for two more weeks after the Lunar New Year holiday. City leader Carrie Lam also announced Saturday that trains and flights from the city of Wuhan would be blocked. (Kyodo News via AP)

            Hong Kong:Asian shares opened slightly lower in thin holiday trade on Monday as fears lingered over the impact of the Omicron coronavirus variant.

                  In Tokyo, the benchmark Nikkei 225 index dipped 0.22 percent in early trade. Hong Kong was closed for a holiday.

                  Shanghai was marginally up, while Seoul was slightly down.

                  The highly transmissible Omicron strain has sent new cases skyrocketing across the globe, with countries reviving lockdowns, major sports leagues cancelling fixtures, and cruise ships returning to port with Covid-infected passengers.

                  Even in China, where a “zero-Covid” strategy has largely kept infections in check, officials recorded 206 new infections Sunday — a count tiny by worldwide standards, but the country’s biggest such figure in 21 months.

                  “A lack of direction is expected with a limited number of trading participants as the year-end holiday season begins,” Mizuho Securities said in a note.

                  Senior strategist Yoshihiro Ito of Okasan Online Securities warned that “the sense of caution over the spread of infections (due to Omicron) remains strong”.

                  Australian and British markets were also closed for the festive holiday.

                  In Friday trade before the Christmas break, markets wavered in similarly subdued trade.

                  A day earlier on Wall Street, the S&P 500 ended the last session before the long holiday weekend at a fresh record following a raft of mostly decent US economic data.

                  And a study released Sunday showed consumers were in the mood to spend over the holiday season, with retail sales soaring 8.5 percent over last year.

                  Online sales were up 11 percent and in-store sales up 8.1 percent between November 1 and Christmas Eve, according to the Mastercard SpendingPulse study.

                  “Consumers splurged throughout the season,” said Steve Sadove, senior advisor for Mastercard and former CEO of Saks Incorporated.

                  – Key figures around 0230 GMT –

                  Tokyo – Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.22 percent at 28,719.67

                  Hong Kong – Hang Seng Index: UP 0.1 percent at 23,223.76 (close)

                  Shanghai – Composite: UP 0.25 percent at 3,626.96

                  London – FTSE 100: FLAT at 7,372.10 points (close)

                  New York – Dow: UP 0.5 percent at 35,950.56 (close)

                  Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.1319 from $1.1335

                  Pound/dollar: DOWN at 1.3411 from $1.3417

                  Euro/pound: DOWN at 84.41 from 84.44 pence

                  Dollar/yen: UP at 114.43 yen from 114.38 yen

                  West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 0.68 percent at $73.29 per barrel

                  Brent North Sea crude: UP 0.42 percent at $76.46 per barrel