Asian markets start week on front foot as vaccine hopes boosted

HONG KONG (AFP) – Asian markets pushed higher yesterday as investors creep back after a recent sell-off, with coronavirus vaccine hopes given a boost and traders looking ahead to the Federal Reserve’s latest policy meeting.

But the reimposition of virus containment measures in several countries, worries about high stock valuations, Brexit tensions and uncertainty over the United States (US) presidential election are keeping gains in check.

Trials on one of the most advanced vaccines resumed at the weekend after being paused briefly when a volunteer fell ill. British regulators gave AstraZeneca and Oxford University the go-ahead to push on following an investigation.

Oxford University said that “in large trials such as this, it is expected that some participants will become unwell and every case must be carefully evaluated”.

AstraZeneca said it remained hopeful the vaccine would still be available “by the end of this year, early next year”.

The news provided much-needed relief for markets, just as governments across the world see a worrying surge in new infections, forcing Israel to introduce a three-week lockdown.

Britain, France, Austria and the Czech Republic were among European countries reporting surges, with new cases in the United Kingdom (UK) reaching more than 3,000 in 24 hours for the second day in a row on Saturday.

A woman walks past a bank’s electronic board showing the Hong Kong share index at Hong Kong Stock Exchange. PHOTO: AP

After a spate of local lockdowns this month, new government restrictions come into force across England yesterday, limiting social gatherings to no more than six people.

Analysts said attention is turning increasingly to the November presidential election, with US President Donald Trump battling to keep the White House against Joe Biden, who is leading in opinion polls.

“The focus on all the other danger points has meant the election has played a less meaningful role so far but, with the election just a few weeks away, something tells me it may soon move into the driver’s seat,” said AxiCorp’s Stephen Innes.

“With election risk and the path to economic nirvana clouded by virus concerns, and while optimism remains keen on a vaccine to cure, it’s bound to be another roller-coaster ride this week.”

Hong Kong and Shanghai rose 0.6 per cent each, while Sydney added 0.7 per cent.

Tokyo also rallied 0.7 per cent thanks to a surge of nine per cent in SoftBank after it said yesterday it is to sell British chip designer Arm to NVIDIA of the US for up to USD40 billion in what would be one of the biggest purchases in the world this year.

There was little reaction to Yoshihide Suga’s victory in ruling party leadership elections putting him on course to become Japan’s next prime minister.

Seoul jumped more than one per cent, Jakarta surged more than two per cent and Taipei put on 0.9 per cent.