Nikkei 225 drops 3% as Japan stocks slide on new variant concern

Japanese equities led losses in Asia, with the Nikkei 225 Stock Average sliding 3%, and the yen strengthened as worries over a new variant of the coronavirus spurred risk-off moves across the region.

Travel agent HIS Co. sank 7.7% as of 1:15 p.m. Tokyo, while Japan Airlines Co. dropped 5.9%. SoftBank Group Corp. was the biggest drag on the Nikkei 225, falling 5% after a Bloomberg report that Chinese regulators have asked Didi Global Inc., in which SoftBank is an investor, to delist from US bourses. The benchmark Topix slid 2.4%, set for its worst drop since June 21, with all industry groups in the red.

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The MSCI Asia Pacific Index was down 1.8%, while S&P 500 Index futures slid 1% following the Thanksgiving holiday. The yen gained 0.6% against the dollar.

“Today would have been a quiet day if not for the news of the variant,” said Masahiro Ichikawa, chief market strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui DS Asset Management Co. “Even before this news, virus cases were back on the rise in the US and Europe, so investors are now wary of the possibility that with a new variant, infections could spread all at once.”

The variant recently discovered in South Africa carries an unusually large number of mutations and is “clearly very different” from previous incarnations, Tulio de Oliveira, a bio-informatics professor who runs gene-sequencing institutions at two South African universities, said at a briefing on Thursday.

“The word is that the new variant is very infectious,” said Nobuhiko Kuramochi, a market strategist at Mizuho Securities Co. in Tokyo. “There’s worry that if the existing vaccines don’t work, people will have to resort to lockdowns again.”

Japan’s local cases of Covid-19 have dwindled in recent weeks while vaccinations have surged to make it one of the most immunised developed countries in the world. Japan sees the severe economic situation due to Covid-19 “gradually easing,” while the recovery continues to show weak momentum, the Cabinet Office said in its monthly economic report.

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