Asia markets mixed on Delta variant gloom

HONG KONG (AFP) – Asian markets fluctuated in morning trade on Tuesday as investors weighed record gains on Wall Street against fears the resurgent Delta coronavirus variant may put the brakes on the global economic recovery.

Major US indices rebounded overnight from a slow start as bargain hunters stepped up purchases — leaving both the Dow and S&P 500 finishing narrowly positive to extend a streak of record high closes for a fifth straight day.

Buoyed by those gains on Wall Street, Tokyo opened up 0.5 percent.

But Mizuho Securities warned that the market will be “weighed down by rising virus cases and geopolitical risks that are pushing the yen higher.”

Markets in China have dragged since a regulatory crackdown on private business by Beijing that has left investors on edge, with Hong Kong fluctuating through the morning session and Shanghai flat.

Prospects for the global recovery were also hit by Chinese data this week showing retail sales and industrial production slowing in July, with a rapid recovery threatened by renewed localised virus lockdowns and extensive travel restrictions.

Raymond Yeung, chief economist for Greater China at ANZ Banking Group, said the figures “suggest the economy is losing steam very fast.”

Surging infections linked to the Delta variant of the coronavirus “also adds extra risk to August’s activities,” he added.

Markets in Seoul were down, as were Taipei and Australia, where millions remain under coronavirus restrictions with little end in sight as cases tied to the Delta variant soar.

Also hit by the virus gloom have been oil prices, which rebounded slightly from falls of around 1.5 percent on Monday that were prompted by the weak economic data from Beijing.

“As data begins to reflect the full impact of the shutdown in China, investors are worried this negative trend we’re seeing won’t just be a localised issue,” Bart Melek of TD Securities told Bloomberg TV.

“We are moving from expectations of a robust deficit to a potential surplus as the variant continues to halt the growth rate of demand.”

But some cause for optimism may come later in the day stateside, where investors will be closely watching the US retail sales data for signs that the country’s consumer spending remains healthy.