Asian Shares Fall On Stimulus Uncertainty, Virus Concerns

Asian stocks fell broadly on Wednesday, with diminishing hopes for the passage of a U.S. stimulus bill coupled with worries about the development of a Covid-19 vaccine keeping investors cautious.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected the $1.8 trillion coronavirus relief proposal from the White House on Tuesday, calling it inadequate to support the pandemic-ravaged economy.

U.S. health regulators have paused Eli Lilly’s late-stage trial of its antibody treatment for Covid-19 due to potential safety concerns, adding to uncertainty about the development of a vaccine.

Chinese shares ended lower after a speech by Chinese President Xi Jinping in Shenzhen failed to impress investors. The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index ended down 18.97 points, or 0.6 percent, at 3,340.78, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index closed little changed at 24,667.09.

Japanese shares reversed early losses to end marginally higher as the yen held relatively steady. The Nikkei 225 Index edged up 24.95 points, or 0.1 percent, to 23,626.73, while the broader Topix index closed 0.3 percent lower at 1,643.90.

Banks Mitsubishi UFJ Financial, Sumitomo Mitsui Financial and Mizuho Financial Group lost 1-2 percent. Electronics and semiconductor company Tokyo Electron gained 2.6 percent.

ANA Holdings slumped 4.6 percent after a report the airline is eying a 5 percent monthly wage cut. Nippon Steel gave up 3.8 percent on news it is considering selling off its two automotive steel plants in the U.S. state of Indiana.

Australian markets edged lower amid fading hopes for additional U.S. stimulus and uncertainty about Covid-19 vaccines and treatments. The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index dropped 16.50 points, or 0.3 percent, to 6,179.20, while the broader All Ordinaries Index ended down 12.80 points, or 0.2 percent, at 6,387.40.

The big four banks all fell over 1 percent, while miners BHP, Fortescue Metals Group and Rio Tinto ended down between 0.8 percent and 1.4 percent.

Bank of Queensland surged 5.2 percent as it announced the sale of its St. Andrew’s Insurance business to private investment firm Farmcove Investment Holdings for A$23 million.

Buildings materials supplier James Hardie Industries gained 1.6 percent after raising its full-year underlying profit forecast. Biotech major CSL advanced 1.4 percent after it raised the lower end of its full-year profit forecast.

In economic news, Australian consumer confidence improved sharply in October following the announcement of the federal budget and the ongoing success in containing the Covid-19 outbreak, survey data from Westpac showed.

The corresponding index advanced 11.9 percent to 105.0 in October from 93.8 in September. The indicator gained 32 percent over the last two months to reach the highest level since July 2018.

Seoul stocks fell the most in nearly three weeks after more than 50 patients and workers at a nursing hospital in Busan were diagnosed with Covid-19, threatening hopes for a quick economic recovery.

The benchmark Kospi tumbled 22.67 points, or 0.9 percent, to 2,380.48, with losses widening towards the session’s close.

Earlier in the day, the Bank of Korea froze its key interest rate at a record low of 0.5 percent as widely expected.

New Zealand shares rose for the eleventh day, with the benchmark NZX-50 Index finishing up 89.76 points, or 0.7 percent, at 12,543.61 in the run up to Saturday’s general election. Logistics provider Mainfreight jumped 5.8 percent to lead the gainers.

U.S. stocks edged lower overnight as a stalemate in stimulus negotiations continued, a string of earnings reports from companies ranging from airlines to banks proved to be a mixed bag, and the pause of a key coronavirus trial added to uncertainty about when a safe and effective vaccine will be ready.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 shed around 0.6 percent, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite slipped 0.1 percent.

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