NEW YORK (Reuters) – Asian shares were set for choppy trade on Wednesday as the investor focus swung between concerns about a new faster-spreading variant of the coronavirus and hopes that more U.S. fiscal aid would propel an economic recovery.
Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 was up 0.60% in early trading, following three-straight days of losses. Japan’s Nikkei 225 futures were down 0.13%, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index futures were down 0.05%.
U.S. stocks ended mostly lower over concerns the new COVID variation, which has halted movement in and out of the UK and sent vaccine makers scrambling to ensure their drugs are effective against it, could further hamper a softening economic recovery.
Data showed U.S. consumer confidence unexpectedly fell in December, for second-straight monthly decline, as renewed restrictions aimed at slowing the pandemic hobbled businesses, overshadowing the roll out of COVID-19 vaccines.
U.S. existing home sales also came in lower than expected
Congress approved a long-anticipated new fiscal stimulus package worth nearly $900 billion late on Monday, but economists said it would likely fall short of what was needed to counter a winter of rising coronavirus infections and layoffs.
“It’s interesting to note the very muted response from investors globally to the U.S. stimulus package,” said Michael McCarthy, Chief Markets Strategist, at CMC Markets. “It doesn’t seem to be the magic bullet investors once thought it was.”
U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, warning that the “darkest days in the battle against COVID are ahead of us,” said his administration will put forward another COVID-19 relief package early next year.
The S&P 500 ended down 0.21% and the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.67%, while the Nasdaq Composite gained 0.51%.
MSCI’s index of global stocks was off 0.15%.
Oil prices fell on demand worries linked to the new COVID strain, with Brent last down 2.16% at $49.81 a barrel and U.S. crude 2.44% lower at $46.80.
The safe-haven U.S. dollar was up 0.56% against a basket of currencies, while both the euro and the pound were slightly higher, having clawed back earlier losses amid talk of a potential post-Brexit trade deal on the table between Britain and the European Union.
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