Asian Shares Muted In Cautious Trading

Asian stocks fluctuated before ending little changed on Wednesday as investors booked profits after a record November.

Sentiment was underpinned after the European Medicines Agency said it received applications for emergency approval of vaccines developed by Pfizer with BioNTech and Moderna.

In another development, a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers unveiled a $908 billion Covid-19 relief bill on Tuesday, keeping hopes for additional stimulus alive.

Chinese shares swung between gains and losses before ending little changed. The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index slipped 2.56 points, or 0.1 percent, to 3,449.38, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index edged down 35.10 points, or 0.1 percent, to 26,532.58.

Japanese shares ended little changed as investors book some profits after recent strong gains on hopes for additional stimulus and economic recovery if vaccines are rolled out fast. The Nikkei 225 Index inched up 13.44 points, or 0.1 percent, to 26,800.98, while the broader Topix closed 0.3 percent higher at 1,773.97.

Investors chased value stocks, with Takeda Pharmaceutical climbing 2.9 percent and Honda Motor spiking 5.1 percent. Staffing giant Recruit Holdings slumped 4.8 percent on reports its shareholders plan to sell $4 billion in shares in an effort to unwind cross-shareholdings.

Nishimatsuya Chain fell 2.7 percent on profit taking after steep gains so far this year. Specialty retail company Workman lost 5 percent after its November sales figures came in short of expectations.

Australian markets fluctuated before finishing on a flat note after Reserve Bank of Australia governor Philip Lowe described the rebound in economic growth that has lifted the economy out of recession as “good.”

New data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed that the nation’s GDP grew 3.3 percent in the September quarter after a record 7.0 decline in the June quarter. In the year to September 2020, GDP declined 3.8 percent.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index inched up 1.70 points to 6,590.20, while the broader Ordinaries Index finished marginally lower at 6,811.30.

Lender ANZ rose 0.7 percent, while the other three big banks ended narrowly mixed. Mining heavyweights BHP and Rio Tinto rose about 2 percent.

Biotechnology firm Mesoblast surged 7.3 percent after it was granted fast-track designation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for its therapy product, Remestemcel-L, to treat acute respiratory distress syndrome.

Seoul stocks hit record highs for the second consecutive session on the back of optimism surrounding Covid-19 vaccines and U.S. stimulus. The benchmark Kospi rallied 41.65 points, or 1.6 percent, to close at 2,675.90.

Market bellwether Samsung Electronics jumped 2.5 percent and SK Hynix surged 8.5 percent after a new forecast showed the global semiconductor industry will return to growth this year despite disruptions from the Covid-19 pandemic.

New Zealand shares gave up early gains to end marginally lower for the day. The benchmark NZX-50 Index ended down 1.22 points at 12,728.69.

U.S. stocks advanced overnight as China’s manufacturing sector logged its strongest growth in a decade in November and Pfizer and its partner BioNTech sought regulatory clearance for their vaccine in the European Union.

Investors shrugged off data showing a slowdown in the pace of growth in U.S. manufacturing activity and Fed Chair Jerome Powell’s remarks calling the economic outlook “extraordinarily uncertain.”

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.6 percent, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite and the S&P 500 climbed 1.3 percent and 1.1 percent, respectively, to reach fresh record closing highs.

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