Nikkei plunges over 3% on new COVID-19 variant concerns


The Nikkei stock index dropped over 3% Friday afternoon, trading at its lowest intraday level in about a month, as reports of a new COVID-19 variant raised concerns over its potential effect on the global economic recovery.

As of 1 p.m., the 225-issue Nikkei stock average was down 828.38 points, or 2.81%, from Thursday at 28,670.90. The broader Topix index of all first section issues on the Tokyo Stock Exchange was down 45.45 points, or 2.24%, at 1,980.24.

“As European countries implement lockdowns and restrict movements due to a surge in infections, reports of a new variant serve as an additional negative factor and deepen uncertainty over the global economic recovery,” said Maki Sawada, a strategist at Nomura Securities Co.’s investment content department.

“The ongoing strengthening of the yen and falls in some Asian markets pulled the market down further,” she added.

It is feared the variant confirmed in South Africa may be highly contagious and the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines against the variant is being questioned due to the nature of its mutations.

Every industry was met with selling, led by air transportation, nonferrous metal and real estate stocks.

The U.S dollar fell to the upper ¥114 range as the yen, seen as a safe-haven asset, was sought on worries over the new COVID-19 strain discovered in South Africa, dealers said.

At noon, the dollar fetched ¥114.69 compared with ¥115.35 in London at 4 p.m. and ¥115.38 in Tokyo at 5 p.m. Thursday. U.S. financial markets were closed Thursday for the Thanksgiving holiday.

The euro was quoted at $1.1224 and ¥128.72 against $1.1205-1215 and ¥129.30 in London and $1.1215 and ¥129.40 in Tokyo late Thursday afternoon.

Stocks were lower from the outset, extending losses throughout the morning with the Nikkei index falling below the 29,000 mark for the first time since Oct. 29, as a stronger yen and drop in U.S. stock futures additionally pressured the market.

On the first section, declining issues outnumbered advancers 1,976 to 161, while 43 ended the morning unchanged.

Air transportation issues were particularly hit on worries that the South African variant may reduce people’s ability to travel.

ANA Holdings Inc. plummeted ¥99.0, or 4.0%, to ¥2,373.5, and Japan Airlines Co. tumbled ¥105, or 4.6%, to ¥2,178.

Export-oriented shares were lower as the yen strengthened against the U.S dollar. Electronic manufacturers Canon Inc. fell ¥51.0, or 1.9%, to ¥2,594.0, and Panasonic Corp. slumped ¥35.5, or 2.6%, to ¥1,318.5.

Automakers Mazda Motor Corp. dropped ¥30, or 2.9%, to ¥1,020, and Nissan Motor Co. sagged ¥13.2, or 2.1%, to ¥626.1.

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