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Asian benchmarks mixed as markets eye COVID, inflation risks

TOKYO – Asian stocks were mixed in Monday trade as momentum from last week’s Wall Street rally faded amid mixed sentiment over China’s easing of coronavirus restrictions and global interest rate hikes.

Benchmarks fell in Japan and South Korea while rising in China. Analysts say some investors are being encouraged by signs of a slowdown in US inflation earlier than originally thought, while warning of factors that could be fueling inflation, including geopolitical risks.

“But it is far too hasty to draw a definitive conclusion on inflation risks,” said Mizuho Bank’s Venkateswaran Lavanya.

Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 slipped 0.8% to 28,047.58 in morning trade. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 was little changed, rising less than 0.1% to 7,163.10. South Korea’s Kospi slipped 0.2% to 2,479.52. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng was up 2.1% to 17,688.84, while the Shanghai Composite was up 0.4% to 3,099.19.

“We also have the Democrats holding the Senate while the Republicans will likely control the House of Representatives. Political paralysis in times of economic crisis is not a good preview of what may lie ahead in the next two years. The current rally in stocks may be days away,” said Clifford Bennett, chief economist at ACY Securities, referring to the results of the US midterm elections.

Wall Street rallied last week amid hopes that inflationary pressures had eased. That would reduce the likelihood of the Federal Reserve raising interest rates further. However, some analysts said Wall Street’s rally was overdone.

The S&P 500 rose 36.56 points, or 5.5%, to 3,992.93 on its best day in more than two years. Its 5.9% weekly gain was its third in the past four and its biggest since June.

The Dow was up 32.49, or 0.1%, to 33,747.86 and the Nasdaq was up 209.18, or 1.9%, to 11,323.33. Both also posted strong gains for the week.

Markets are getting a boost from China’s easing of some of its tough anti-COVID measures that have hurt the world’s second largest economy. The easing of restrictions means potentially more growth in China, a clear plus for the Asian region.

A report last week showed that inflation in the United States has slowed more-than-expected over the past month. The Fed has already raised its federal funds rate to a range of 3.75% to 4% from virtually zero in March. The likely scenario is still for further hikes into next year.

In energy trading, benchmark US crude was up 22 cents at $89.18 a barrel. US crude was up 2.9% on Friday at $88.96 a barrel. Brent crude, the international standard, rose 29 cents to $96.28 a barrel.

In forex trading, the US dollar rose to 139.20 Japanese yen from 138.76 yen. The euro cost $1.0391 compared to $1.0356.

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Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter https://twitter.com/yurikageyama

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