Asian stocks follow Wall St higher amid virus uncertainty

Asian stock markets have gained as investors weighed the economic impact of the spread of the coronavirus’s delta variant

Shanghai, Tokyo and Hong Kong advanced. Sydney declined.

Wall Street’s benchmark S&P 500 declined 0.1% on Tuesday from the previous day’s record but ended August with a 2.9% gain.

Investors are optimistic about stronger U.S. corporate profits and took comments by Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell on Friday as assurance interest rates will stay low. But that is being tested by signs the virus is depressing economic activity.

Powell’s comments are “being overshadowed by mixed economic data” as the virus impact “becomes more obvious,” said Venkateswaran Lavanya of Mizuho Bank in a report.

On Tuesday, a U.S. business group, the Conference Board, reported consumer confidence fell sharply in August. Most of the decline was tied to the delta variant, which has inundated hospitals with patients.

The Shanghai Composite Index rose 0.9% to 3,579.46 and the Nikkei 225 in Tokyo added 1.2% to 28,450.06.

The Hang Seng in Hong Kong advanced 0.6% to 26,101.95. The Kospi in South Korea gained 0.3% to 3,215.13.

Sydney’s S&P-ASX 200 shed 0.3% to 7,514.50 after the government reported economic output rose 1.4% over a year earlier in the quarter ending in June.

Forecasters warn anti-virus control imposed in the latest quarter probably will drag full-year growth to below that level. IHS Market reported its measure of Australian manufacturing contracted in August for the first time since June 2020.

India’s Sensex opened up 0.5% at 57,830.52 after economic growth surged to 20.1% over the depressed level of a year earlier in the latest quarter. It was India’s strongest growth on record, but output shrank by 12% compared with the previous quarter as coronavirus infections surged.

New Zealand, Singapore and Bangkok gained while Indonesia declined.

Also Wednesday, a survey found Chinese manufacturing decelerated in August as demand weakened and factories struggled with supply disruptions. The monthly purchasing managers’ index by business magazine Caixin fell to 49.2 from July 50.1 on a 100-point scale on which numbers below 50 show activity contracting.

Investors are trying to figure out which industries gain and which will lose as they grapple with supply disruptions, the spread of the more contagious variant of the virus and signs of possible consumer caution.

On Wall Street, the S&P 500 lost 6.11 points to 4,522.68. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.1% to 35,360.73 and the Nasdaq slipped less than 0.1%, to 15,259.24.

On Friday, the Labor Department is due to report U.S. employment conditions in August.

In energy markets, benchmark U.S. crude rose 49 cents to $68.99 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 71 cents on Tuesday to $68.50. Brent crude, used to price international oils, gained 47 cents to $72.10 per barrel in London. It fell 42 cents the previous session to $72.99.

The dollar rose to 110.22 yen from 110.00 yen. The euro declined to $1.1799 from $1.1812.

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