Asia Withers amid New COVID Fears

Shares in Asia-Pacific dropped on Friday, with stocks in Hong Kong and Japan leading losses regionally as fears of a new COVID variant weighed on investor sentiment.

In Japan, the Nikkei 225 tumbled 747.66 points, or 2.5%, to 28,751.62. Shares of SoftBank Group plummeted 5.19% following a Bloomberg report that Chinese regulators have asked Didi, which the Japanese conglomerate holds a sizable stake in, to de-list from the U.S.

The Japanese yen, widely seen as a safe-haven currency, strengthened in Friday trading as investors scrambled for cover. The yen last traded at 114.07 per U.S. dollar, as compared with levels above 115 seen earlier against the greenback.

In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng lost 659.64 points, or 2.7%, to 24,080.52.

Travel stocks in Asia-Pacific fell on Friday amid the renewed COVID fears.

In Australia, Qantas Airways shares dropped 5.5% while Hong Kong-listed shares of Cathay Pacific slipped 4.1%.

Shares of Japan Airlines in Japan plunged 6.5%. Singapore Airlines’ stock in Singapore declined 3.4%.

World Health Organization officials said Thursday they are monitoring a new variant with "a large number of mutations." A special meeting is scheduled for Friday to discuss its implications for vaccines and treatments.

The variant has been detected in Hong Kong, according to South Africa’s Minister of Health Joe Phaahla.

Australia’s retail sales in October jumped 4.9% month-on-month, seasonally adjusted, according to official estimates released Friday. That was far higher than the 2.5% increase predicted in a Reuters poll.

The Australian dollar fell to $0.7118, extending losses following yesterday’s drop from levels above $0.72.

In other markets

In China, the CSI 300 retreated 36.31 points, or 0.7%, to 4,860.13

In Taiwan, the Taiex collapsed 284.8 points, or 1.6%, to 17,369.39

In Singapore, the Straits Times Index dipped 55.25 points, or 1.7%, to 3,166.27

In Korea, the Kospi index deleted 43.83 points, or 1.5%, to 2,936.44

In New Zealand, the NZX 50 forfeited 165.71 points, or 1.3%, to 12,628.89

In Australia, the ASX 200 dropped 127.94 points, or 1.7%, at 7,279.35