SINGAPORE — Asia-Pacific markets declined on Friday as investors assess risks associated with the new omicron Covid variant and look ahead to key inflation data in the U.S.
Japan’s Nikkei 225 extended losses from the previous session and was down 0.16% in early trade. The Topix index traded fractionally higher.
In South Korea, the Kospi fell 0.67% while the Kosdaq was down 0.55%.
Australian shares also traded lower. The ASX 200 fell 0.3%, with the energy subindex dropping 1.13% on the back of overnight decline in oil prices.
Energy names in Australia sold off: Santos shares fell 1.36%, Oil Search was lower by 1.45% and Woodside Petroleum declined 0.63%.
Friday’s session in Asia follows overnight declines on Wall Street.
“The more cautious tone in risk market probably has as much or more to do with apprehension ahead of tonight’s US CPI report,” Ray Attrill, head of foreign-exchange strategy at the National Australia Bank, said in a morning note.
U.S. inflation data
Stateside, the Labor Department is set to release November’s consumer price index Friday morning local time, which measures the cost of dozens of items.
Estimates suggest the reading could mark its highest year-over-year level since 1982.
While a jump in inflation is hardly news to the market, investors will look to see how hot the level is and what kind of a reaction that might trigger from the U.S. Federal Reserve.
“We expect the data will reinforce that underlying inflation in the US is both broad and high,” said Kim Mundy, senior economist and currency strategist at the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, in an early morning note. “Importantly, another strong print will reinforce FOMC Chair Jay Powell’s hawkish turn last week.”
Last week, the Fed chair said it was “probably a good time to retire” the word “transitory” to describe inflation and promised that the central bank would be vigilant in controlling inflation.
At its policy meeting next week, the Fed is expected to say that it will speed up the pace of its bond purchase taper, while also likely hint at a more aggressive path for interest rate hikes in 2022.
Currencies and commodities
In the currency market, the U.S. dollar last traded at 96.271 against a basket of its peers, rising in the previous session from levels near 95.967. Analysts said fresh concerns about the omicron strain’s impact on economic recovery likely supported the greenback.
The Japanese yen was little changed, trading at 113.44 per dollar, while the Australian dollar was also relatively flat at $0.7147.
Oil prices settled lower overnight, with Brent down 1.9% at $74.42 a barrel and U.S. crude down 2% at $70.94.
On Friday during Asian trading hours, U.S. crude extended its losses, down 0.54% at $70.56.
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