Asia stock markets mixed after Wall St high, virus surge

Asian stock markets were mixed Thursday after Wall Street hit a high and new daily U.S. coronavirus cases surged to a record.

Tokyo and Seoul declined while Shanghai and Hong Kong advanced.

Wall Street gained Wednesday for its 70th record high of 2021.

Optimism was tempered by data showing new U.S. virus cases have risen to an average of 265,000 per day, driven largely by the more contagious omicron variant.

Markets are “hanging onto thin optimism” while health care resources do a “balancing act,” Tan Boon Heng of Mizuho Bank said in a report.

The Shanghai Composite Index rose 0.8% to 3,626.58 after a deputy commerce minister said China’s total trade is forecast to grow 20% in 2021 over a year earlier.

The Nikkei 225 in Tokyo shed 0.3% to 28,826.41 while Hang Seng in Hong Kong advanced 0.2% to 23,134.88.

The Kospi in Seoul declined 0.4% to 2,983.48 and Sydney’s S&P-ASX 200 was off 0.3% at 2,981.24.

India’s Sensex opened up 0.2% at 57,950.97. New Zealand and Bangkok gained while Singapore and Jakarta retreated.

Wall Street’s benchmark S&P 500 index rose 0.1% to 4,793.06. The Dow Jones Industrial Average added 0.2% to 36,488.63. The Nasdaq composite slipped 0.1% to 15,766.22.

The S&P 500 is on track for a gain of more than 27% in 2021.

The benchmark, which also set records on Monday and on Dec. 23, hit more new highs in 2021 than in any year since the 77 in 1954. The Dow set a record in early November.

Investors have been encouraged by stronger corporate profits and advances in vaccine development and virus treatment.

That has been tempered by Federal Reserve’s decision to try to cool U.S. inflation, which is at a nearly four-decade high, by rolling back stimulus that has boosted stock prices.

On Wednesday, the S&P 500 was lifted by gains in health care, technology and consumer-oriented stocks.

Biogen jumped 9.5% for the biggest gain in the index. Target, Nike, supermarket operator Kroger and auto products retailer AutoZone rose 1.3% or more.

Facebook parent Meta Platforms slipped 0.9%, Exxon Mobil dropped 0.9% and Morgan Stanley fell 1.2%.

Trading was lighter as investors closed out positions for the year. Fewer than 3 billion shares traded hands on the New York Stock Exchange compared with a typical daily average of 4.5 billion.

Investor concerns about the omicron variant eased after researchers said it appears to cause less severe symptoms and President Joe Biden avoided announcing travel or other restrictions that might weigh on economic activity.

Still, markets are uncertain about the impact of omicron, which is spreading fast and quickly becoming the dominant variant.

In energy markets, benchmark U.S. crude rose 24 cents to $76.81 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract advanced 58 cents to $76.56 on Wednesday. Brent crude, the price basis for international oils, gained 20 cents to $79.41 per barrel in London. It closed 29 cents higher the previous session at $79.23.

The dollar rose to 115.04 yen from Wednesday’s 114.97 yen. The euro declined to $1.1333 from $1.1344.