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European shares mixed, Asia slips on Omicron worries

TOKYO (AP) – European benchmarks opened mixed, with London’s FTSE 100 at nearly a two-year high, after Asian shares mostly finished lower yesterday.

France’s CAC 40 edged up 0.1 per cent in early trading to 7,190.22, while Germany’s DAX slipped 0.2 per cent to 15,935.45.

Britain’s FTSE 100 rose 1.1 per cent to 7,449.16 – its highest level since February 2020, amid optimism that the Omicron coronavirus variant may prove to be milder than earlier versions of the virus.

United States (US) shares were set to drift higher with Dow futures gaining 0.1 per cent to 36,329.00. S&P 500 futures rose 0.2 per cent to 4,788.25.

In Asian trading, Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 lost 0.6 per cent to finish at 28,906.88.

South Korea’s Kospi slipped 0.9 per cent to 2,993.29, while Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 jumped 1.2 per cent to 7,509.80. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng dropped 0.8 per cent to 23,086.54, and the Shanghai Composite shed 0.9 per cent to 3,597.00.

A man walks past an electronic stock board showing Japan’s Nikkei 225 index at a securities firm in Tokyo. PHOTO: AP

Although Asia has relatively few reported infection cases of the Omicron variant compared to the US and Europe, fears are growing that omicron will spread quickly once it gets going. The vaccination rate is about 80 per cent in Japan, but booster shots have barely gotten started.

“The wider point is that regardless of how ‘variant risks’ play out, the process of emerging from the COVID tunnel will be fraught with more heat than light,” meaning problems such as “impediments to unfettered global travel”, which will hobble any recovery, Vishnu Varathan of Mizuho Bank said in a report.

Much is still uncertain about Omicron, which is spreading extremely quickly and leading to a return to pandemic restrictions in some places.

The variant is quickly becoming the dominant strain throughout the world.

While virus-related lockdowns and travel restrictions remain a big concern, most big investors have closed out their positions for 2021 and are likely to hold their ground until next week.

In energy trading, benchmark US crude gained 18 cents to USD76.16 a barrel from USD75.98. Brent crude, the international standard, added 28 cents to USD79.22 a barrel.

In currency trading, the US dollar rose to JPY114.97 from JPY114.81. The euro cost EUR1.1279, down from EUR1.1310.