Asian markets mixed as Delta, profit-taking offset recovery hope

Bitcoin plunged Tuesday, the day El Salvador became the first country to use it as legal tender, with the official digital wallet suffering technical problems. The rollout has also met with protests on fears it could fan inflation. ©AFP

Hong Kong (AFP) - Asian markets were mixed Wednesday as a tepid lead from Wall Street and worries about the impact of the Delta variant on the global recovery tempered investor appetite, though hopes for more stimulus helped Tokyo extend its recent rally.

Profit-taking added to the cautious start to the day with some of the wind appearing to have come out of buyers' sails, having pushed valuations up for more than a week.

While the Nasdaq clocked up yet another record with a small gain, the S&P 500 and Dow ended with a whimper as they reopened after a long weekend, with analysts suggesting profit-taking, concerns about the end of government handouts and ever-present concerns about Covid as reasons.

Traders are keeping a close eye on the fast-spreading Delta, which is sending infection rates spiking around the world and forcing some governments to reimpose containment measures or lockdowns, raising concerns about the economic recovery.

Still, observers say the general mood is positive for the future.

"Localised setbacks in combating the virus have the potential to contribute to market volatility and slow the economic rebound in selected countries," Mark Haefele, at UBS Group AG, wrote in a note.

"But we continue to see broad progress in curbing the pandemic and returning to economic normality."

Tokyo's Nikkei 225 continued the impressive advances enjoyed since Friday's announcement by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga that he will stand down, which raised hopes his successor will introduce fresh stimulus for the stuttering economy. 

On Wednesday, one of the front-runners, Fumio Kishida, pledged to push for trillions of yen in investment if he takes the post.

Data showing growth in the second quarter was better than first thought added to the positive vibes.The index has risen around five percent since the news broke, putting it on course for a three-decade high.

Hong Kong and Shanghai were also up, helped by hopes that China's crackdown on a range of private enterprises may be easing. 

However, Sydney, Seoul, Singapore, Taipei, Wellington, Manila and Jakarta fell.

Bitcoin was stabilising around $47,300, having seen wild fluctuations on Tuesday as El Salvador became the first country to use it as legal tender.

The unit plunged by almost a fifth to as low as $43,000 after a technical issue hit the official digital wallet on vast consumer demand, though that was later resolved, while analysts said it was also hit by profit-taking.

"Social media platforms were very cautious over the weekend that a plunge could occur following El Salvador's big day," said OANDA's Edward Moya, adding that some traders likely bought into the currency ahead of the big day before deciding to "sell the fact".

Key figures around 0230 GMT

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: UP 0.8 percent at 30,161.85 (break)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng Index: UP 0.6 percent at 26,514.08

Shanghai - Composite: UP 0.3 percent at 3,687.81 

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 110.25 yen from 110.30 yen at 2050 GMT

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.3783 from $1.3786

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1850 from $1.1847

Euro/pound: UP at 85.94 pence from 85.90 pence

West Texas Intermediate: UP 0.3 percent at $68.57 per barrel

Brent North Sea crude: UP 0.1 percent at $71.78 per barrel

New York - Dow: DOWN 0.8 percent at 35,100.00 (close)

London - FTSE 100: DOWN 0.5 percent at 7,149.37 (close)


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