Asia stocks little changed as investors weigh risks of new virus infections

Stocks in Asia Pacific were little changed on Wednesday as caution remained over a recent resurgence in coronavirus cases in certain countries regionally as they start to reopen their economies.

Mainland Chinese stocks nudged higher on the day, with the Shanghai composite up 0.22% to about 2,898.05 while the Shenzhen composite added 0.669% to around 1,822.85. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index was largely flat, as of its final hour of trading.

In Japan, the Nikkei 225 declined 0.49% to close at 20,267.05 while the Topix index also shed 0.14% to end its trading day at 1,474.69. South Korea’s Kospi closed 0.95% higher at 1,940.42.

Meanwhile the S&P/ASX 200 in Australia added 0.35% to finish its trading day at 5,421.90.

Overall, the MSCI Asia ex-Japan index rose 0.34%.

Developments on the coronavirus front likely continued to weigh on investor sentiment. Globally, more than 4.2 million people have been infected while at least 291,366 lives have been taken, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Stateside, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Tuesday a vaccine will be essential in stopping the coronavirus spread, but warned it will be a while before a usable one is available. He also cautioned that the U.S. could risk additional outbreaks if states start to reopen too quickly.

In Asia, where the coronavirus first hit, several countries including China and South Korea have experienced an uptick in cases after restrictions were eased.

“The market appears to be ignoring the decline in earnings and the deterioration of economic conditions,” César Pérez Ruiz, Head of Investments & Chief Investment Officer at Pictet Wealth Management, wrote in a note. “We see significant risks remaining as economies attempt to reopen and remain underweight equities overall.”

Still, Ruiz said that the firm remains “positive on Asia and particularly China within emerging markets.”

Overnight on Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed 457.21 points lower at 23,764.78 while the S&P 500 dropped about 2.1% to end its trading day at 2,870.12. The Nasdaq Composite also fell more than 2% to close at around 9,002.55.

Oil prices fell in the afternoon of Asian trading hours, with international benchmark Brent crude futures down 1.57% to $29.51 per barrel. U.S. crude futures also slipped 0.31% to $25.70 per barrel.

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was last at 99.983 after trading above and below the 100 mark so far this week.

The Japanese yen traded at 107.07 per dollar, off levels above 107.4 seen yesterday. The Australian dollar changed hands at $0.6476 following highs above $0.654 seen earlier in the trading week.

CNBC’s Fred Imbert and Yen Nee Lee contributed to this report.

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