Asian Shares Mixed As Vaccine Hopes Fade

Asian stocks turned in a mixed performance on Wednesday as investors digested a report questioning the validity of Moderna’s early trial results for a possible coronavirus vaccine.

Chinese shares ended lower after the cities of Jilin and Shulan, both in the province of Jilin in northwestern China, were sealed off following a worrying spike of COVID-19 infections.

The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index dropped 14.84 points, or 0.5 percent, to 2,883.74, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index ended marginally higher at 24,399.95.

Japanese shares rose notably to reach a fresh two-and-a-half month high on hopes that a continued drop in new daily COVID-19 cases will help the economy recover from the coronavirus crisis.

The government will likely lift its state of emergency for Osaka and Kyoto in western Japan on Thursday after growth in new coronavirus cases fell below the government’s numerical target, media reports said. The government will also examine whether to ease restrictions in Tokyo.

The Nikkei 225 Index climbed 161.70 points, or 0.8 percent, to 20,595.15, while the broader Topix closed 0.6 percent higher at 1,494.69.

Sony Financial Holdings jumped 7.6 percent after Sony Corp. said it plans to make its financial services unit a wholly-owned subsidiary through a tender offer worth about 400 billion yen ($3.7 billion). Sony Corp. lost 2.3 percent.

Banks Mitsubishi UFJ Financial and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial fell slightly after the Bank of Japan said it would hold an emergency meeting on Friday to decide the details of a loan program for small firms.

On the data front, core machine orders in Japan slid a seasonally adjusted 0.4 percent sequentially in March, the Cabinet Office said in a report. On a yearly basis, core machine orders sank 0.7 percent.

Australian markets recovered from an early slide to end modestly higher amid escalating tensions with its top trading partner China over restrictions on Australia beef and barley, seen as retaliation for support of a coronavirus investigation.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index edged up 13.50 points, or 0.2 percent, to 5,573, while the broader All Ordinaries Index ended up 21.30 points, or 0.4 percent, at 5,680.10.

Global miners BHP Group and Rio Tinto dropped 0.9 percent and 0.4 percent, respectively, while the big four banks rose between half a percent and 0.7 percent.

Energy stocks turned in a mixed performance, while medical equipment firm Resmed declined 2.4 percent.

In economic news, the Westpac- Melbourne Institute Leading Index fell to -5.16 percent in April from -2.34 percent in March. This was the weakest reading since the global financial crisis.

The score indicates the likely pace of economic activity relative to trend three to nine months into the future.

Seoul stocks advanced on hopes of global stimulus measures to counter the ongoing coronavirus crisis. Closer to home, Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki said the government will unveil a third extra budget early next month to minimize the economic fallout from the pandemic.

The benchmark Kospi gained 9.03 points, or 0.5 percent, to finish at 1,989.64. Mobile services providers led the surge, with Naver climbing 4 percent and Kakao rallying 5.2 percent.

New Zealand shares ended little changed after comments from central bank governor Adrian Orr suggested any move to bring interest rates below zero remains some way off.

Fletcher Building, the country’s largest construction firm, fell 2.9 percent. The company said the lockdown in New Zealand had resulted in it losing about $55 million during April and it expects a 15 percent drop in commercial building work over the next year.

Malaysia’s KLSE Composite Index advanced 0.8 percent. A government report showed the country’s consumer price index declined 2.9 percent year-on-year in April following a revised 0.2 percent decrease in March. Economists had expected a 1.6 percent fall.

U.S. stocks fell overnight after top U.S. economic officials warned the U.S. economy faces irreparable damage from the coronavirus.

While Fed Chair Jerome Powell called for additional fiscal stimulus, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin warned the economy risks suffering “permanent damage.”

The Dow Jones Industrial Average tumbled 1.6 percent, the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite slid half a percent and the S&P 500 lost 1.1 percent.

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