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Asian Stocks Down, “SeeSawing” Between Vaccine Optimism and COVID-19 Pessimism

·3 min read

By Gina Lee

Investing.com – Asia Pacific stocks were down on Thursday morning. U.S. shares ended on a down note overnight, with fresh U.S. restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19 overshadowing more positive news about a potential vaccine.

New York City suspended in-person teaching in the U.S.’ largest public-school districts as the number of COVID-19 cases in the city rose. The number of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. surpassed 250,000 as of Nov. 19, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Investors digested this news alongside Pfizer Inc's (NYSE:PFE) announcement on Wednesday that its vaccine candidate, BNT162b, that is being co-developed with Germany’s BioNTech (F:22UAy), is 95% effective in a trial involving almost 44,000 participants. The pair could receive both U.S. and European regulatory approval as early as mid-December, BioNTech Chief Executive Ugur Sahin told Reuters.

“If all goes well, I could imagine that we gain approval in the second half of December and start deliveries before Christmas, but really only if all goes positively,” Sahin said.

Other vaccine developers also recently announced positive news for their candidates. Moderna Inc's (NASDAQ:MRNA) mRNA-1273 candidate was almost equally as effective as BNT162b, the company said on Monday. Trial results for a third candidate, AstraZeneca (LON:AZN) and the University of Oxford’s AZD1222, are expected to be released soon.

The ride between optimism and pessimism was dizzying for some investors.

“It’s like a seesaw, the fight between the growth of COVID-19 and the excitement about the vaccine is really weighing on the market,” Kramer Capital Research chief investment officer Hilary Kramer told Reuters.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 fell 0.77% by 11:18 PM ET (3:18 AM GMT) and South Korea’s KOSPI was down 0.60%.

In Australia, the ASX 200 edged down 0.17%, with South Australia beginning a tough lockdown on Thursday to curb a fresh outbreak of COVID-19 in the state. The six-day lockdown prohibits even outdoor exercise and dog-walking, with one person from each household allowed to leave home each day for essential reasons.

The lockdown also sees the closure of schools, universities, cafes and restaurants, a ban on weddings and funerals and mandatory mask-wearing.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Scott Morrison responded to escalating criticism of his government from China by stating that he would not compromise Australia’s national security and sovereignty.

“Australia will always be ourselves … we will always set our own laws and our own rules according to our national interests, not at the behest of any other nation, whether that’s the U.S. or China or anyone else.” Morrison said on Thursday.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index fell 0.77%. China’s Shanghai Composite inched down 0.01% while the Shenzhen Component was up 0.58%.

Investors are curbing some of the enthusiasm that saw global shares reach record highs, despite the positive vaccine news, with the focus squarely on the latest number of COVID-19 cases. The infection rates in both Europe and the U.S. remain high as both areas battle a second wave of cases.

“We are expecting tough times in coming months because of the resurgence of cases, but in terms of the longer-term recovery path, the vaccine was a very important news milestone. We think that the cyclical recovery is going to come back but there are going to be some bumps along the road,” Columbia Threadneedle Investments deputy global head of equities Melda Mergen told Bloomberg.

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