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Omicron’s rapid spread shreds budding recovery in air travel

EMERGING MARKETS-Asian FX, stocks drop as new coronavirus variant spooks markets

·3-min read

* Thai baht down 0.6%, leads losses among Asian FX * Asian stocks drop as risk appetite falls * Singapore stocks hit lowest since mid-October By Harish Sridharan Nov 26 (Reuters) - Shares and currencies in Asia's emerging markets fell sharply on Friday, as investors fled riskier assets in favour of safe-haven ones after the detection of a new coronavirus variant that may be more resistant to existing vaccines. Equities in Taipei dropped as much as 1.6%, on track for their worst session since early October, while shares in Seoul, Singapore, Bangkok and Manila fell more than 1.3%. Scientists have said the new COVID-19 variant, detected in South Africa, may be able to evade immune responses. British authorities think it is the most significant variant to date and worry it could make vaccines less effective and hurt efforts to fight the pandemic. The latest development in South Africa ramped up selling pressure in regional markets, already reeling against broad dollar strength due to bets that an increasingly hawkish U.S. Federal Reserve will lift rates by the middle of next year. "Risk-off trades owing to (the) new South African variant scare was the dominant driver while (the) policy divergence thematic takes the back seat," said Christopher Wong, senior FX strategist at Maybank. He added that if the new variant becomes a "real concern", it would overshadow recent drivers such as policy normalisation. Virus woes have also raised concerns in South Korea, where the health minister said the government is reviewing whether to make changes to its 'living with COVID-19' policies, as cases continue to remain elevated. The Thai baht, Indonesian rupiah, Singapore dollar and South Korean won fell 0.2-0.6%, while the yuan, which has provided some support to these currencies over the week, also weakened. "Should the risk-off persist, expect the EM Asian currencies to be further put under pressure early next week," Terence Wu, FX strategist at OCBC Bank said. The South Korean won hit a one-and-a-half month low, a day after the country's central bank raised interest rates and upgraded its 2022 inflation forecast, bolstering expectations for further policy tightening. Separately, government officials from the Philippines said that borders will be reopened to some foreign tourists from Dec. 1. HIGHLIGHTS ** Indian shares fall as much as 1.5% to hit a 1-month low ** Philippine peso hits lowest since Oct. 12 ** Singapore shares hit lowest since Oct. 18 Asia stock indexes and currencies at 0421 GMT COUNTRY FX RIC FX FX YTD INDEX STOCKS STOCK DAILY % DAILY S YTD % % % Japan +0.65 -9.91 -2.85 4.43 China -0.08 +2.14 -0.50 2.68 India +0.00 -1.94 -1.27 23.83 Indonesia -0.35 -1.92 -1.43 10.45 Malaysia -0.28 -5.19 -0.34 -7.05 Philippines -0.18 -4.76 -1.28 1.89 S.Korea -0.29 -9.01 -1.28 2.39 Singapore -0.23 -3.64 -1.33 11.78 Taiwan -0.09 +2.36 -1.46 18.08 Thailand -0.57 -10.67 -0.95 12.65 (Reporting by Harish Sridharan in Bengaluru; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa)

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