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Japan’s Nikkei 225 drops nearly 3% as Asia-Pacific markets slip amid renewed Covid fears

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SINGAPORE — Shares in Asia-Pacific slipped in Friday trade, with Japanese stocks leading losses regionally as fears of a new Covid variant weighed on investor sentiment.

The Nikkei 225 in Japan dropped 2.69% while the Topix index fell 2.09%. Shares of SoftBank Group plummeted around 5% following a Bloomberg report that Chinese regulators have asked Didi, which the Japanese conglomerate holds a sizable stake in, to delist from the U.S.

Those losses came after World Health Organization officials said Thursday they are monitoring a new variant with “a large number of mutations.” A special meeting is scheduled for Friday to discuss its implications for vaccines and treatments.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index also saw sharp losses falling 1.98%. The variant has been detected in Hong Kong, according to South Africa’s Minister of Health Joe Phaahla.

The S&P/ASX 200 in Australia fell 1.45%. Australia’s retail sales in October jumped 4.9% month-on-month, seasonally adjusted, according to official estimates released Friday. That was far higher than the 2.5% increase predicted in a Reuters poll.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan traded 1.45% lower.

Yen strengthens amid flight to safety

The Japanese yen, widely seen as a safe-haven currency, strengthened in Friday trading as investors scrambled for cover. The yen last traded at 114.69 per dollar, as compared with levels above 115 seen earlier against the greenback.

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was at 96.721 — still above levels below 96.5 seen earlier in the trading week.

The South African rand weakened more than 1% against the greenback, last trading at 16.2172 per dollar.

The Australian dollar fell to $0.7143, extending losses following yesterday’s drop from levels above $0.72.

Oil falls at least 2%

Oil prices were lower in the morning of Asia trading hours, with international benchmark Brent crude futures down 2.01% to $80.57 per barrel. U.S. crude futures slipped 2.54% to $76.40 per barrel.

Travel stocks in Asia-Pacific fell in Friday trade amid the renewed Covid fears.

In Australia, Qantas Airways shares dropped 4.91% while Hong Kong-listed shares of Cathay Pacific slipped 2.98%. Shares of Japan Airlines in Japan plunged 4.91% while Singapore Airlines’ stock in Singapore declined 1.71%.

Markets in the U.S. were closed on Thursday for the Thanksgiving holiday.

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