Headlines that the US now has one patient with Omicron variant sent stock markets edgy with Tokyo, Shanghai, Sydney, Singapore, Wellington and Jakarta all fell but Hong Kong, Seoul, Taipei and Manila rose.
WARY investors are keeping close watch over the meeting of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and other major oil producers to see if they would decide to pause their monthly output increases.
Asian markets were mixed Thursday and oil edged up with traders still trying to claw back their latest Omicron-induced losses but still full of uncertainty after Wall Street suffered a late plunge in response to the United States reporting its first case, the AFP reported.
News that a patient had come down with the new variant sent shivers through US investors who fear authorities will be forced to reintroduce strict containment measures or even lockdowns, derailing the recovery in the world's top economy.
That comes on top of a widespread belief the Federal Reserve will end its vast bond-buying financial support program quicker than expected and begin hiking interest rates next year to prevent inflation -- now at a three-decade high -- from running out of control.
Traders were already feeling uneasy in recent weeks on concerns about the sharp rise in prices around the world caused by supply chain snarls, a spike in energy costs and a labor shortage.
Over the edge
The announcement of Omicron -- and warnings that vaccines may not be as effective against it -- sent them over the edge on Friday.
While experts say it will take weeks to fully understand the true danger of Omicron, markets are highly sensitive to any negative headlines on the crisis, with the VIX gauge of volatility at its highest level since the start of February.
Meanwhile, the OECD grouping of major industrialized nations warned the mutated strain threatens the global recovery and cut its growth outlook for this year.
Disquiet at the bourse
The disquiet on trading floors was evident in New York Wednesday when the announcement of the strain sent all three main indexes into the red, having spent most of the day in positive territory.
"The Omicron variant is the number one uncertainty facing the US economic outlook," Kim Mundy, of Commonwealth Bank of Australia, said.
Tokyo, Shanghai, Sydney, Singapore, Wellington and Jakarta all fell but Hong Kong, Seoul, Taipei and Manila rose.
Eyes will be on the latest meeting of OPEC and other major suppliers later in the day where they will discuss their plan to raise output each month to help quell prices, with the likely impact of Omicron on demand likely to be a major talking point.
The group has already raised the possibility it will pause the increases, having been upset by a decision by the United States and other major consumers including China to release some of their own reserves.
Both main crude contracts rose Thursday, though they remain well below their levels from a week ago before they tanked more than 10 percent in reaction to the Omicron announcement.
"The arrival of the Omicron variant and the ensuing sell-off obviously increases the odds that OPEC+ will opt to hit the pause button," Helima Croft of RBC Capital Markets said.
Investors are also awaiting the release of US jobs data on Friday, which will provide the latest snapshot of the state of the world's top economy.
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