Asian stocks lower after Pfizer cuts vaccine shipment plans

BEIJING (AP) – Asian stock markets followed Wall Street lower yesterday after Pfizer Inc cut the number of doses of a planned coronavirus vaccine it might ship this year.

Benchmarks in Shanghai, Tokyo and Hong Kong, which are the bulk of the region’s market value, retreated while Sydney advanced.

Wall Street’s benchmark S&P 500 index closed 0.1 per cent lower on Thursday, short of a new record, after Pfizer reduced the number of vaccine doses it might ship this year by half to 50 million.

The company told The Wall Street Journal testing and setting up a supply chain took longer than expected. Also on Thursday, United States (US) health authorities reported a one-day record of 3,157 virus deaths.

“Before we can make new gains, there is the usual sentiment tug of war between medium-term optimism and near-term COVID-19 despair,” Stephen Innes of Axi said in a report.

The Shanghai Composite Index lost 0.4 per cent to 3,430.03 and the Nikkei 225 in Tokyo sank 0.3 per cent to 26,727.17. The Hang Seng in Hong Kong retreated 0.2 per cent to 26,686.54.

The Kospi in Seoul gained 1.4 per cent to 2,734.37 and Sydney’s S&P-ASX 200 was 0.4 per cent higher at 6,644.00. New Zealand and Jakarta declined while Singapore and Bangkok advanced.

Investors hope one or more coronavirus vaccines might be available next year despite the challenges of making and distributing billions of doses that must be kept frozen.

On Wall Street, the S&P 500 slipped to 3,666.72. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 0.3 per cent to 29,969.52. The Nasdaq composite added 0.2 per cent to 12,377.18.

Investors have been encouraged by signs Democrats and Republicans in Washington may get past their bitter partisanship to agree on an economic aid package.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke on Thursday after Pelosi signaled a willingness to make major concessions. President-elect Joe Biden urged Congress on Wednesday to pass a relief bill now, with more aid to come next year.

An industry group reported on Thursday that US service industries grew in November but the pace slowed for a second month.

The Institute for Supply Management’s index of services activity declined to 55.9 from October’s 56.6. Readings above 50 represent expansion in industries such as restaurants, retail stores and delivery companies.

A separate report said fewer Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week than forecast, though economists cautioned that number may have been distorted by the Thanksgiving Day holiday.

Oil prices edged higher after OPEC and allied countries including Russia agreed on Thursday to increase oil production by 500,000 barrels per day starting from January. They slashed output earlier to shore up price as the pandemic and controls on business and travel depressed demand.

Benchmark US crude gained 71 cents to USD46.35 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 36 cents on Thursday to USD45.64 a barrel. Brent crude, used to price international oils, was 90 cents higher at USD49.61 per barrel in London. It added 46 cents the previous session to USD48.71 a barrel.

The dollar declined to JPY103.91 from Thursday’s JPY103.97. The euro was unchanged at USD1.2143.