SYDNEY/TOKYO — Asian stocks suffered their sharpest drop in three months on Friday and oil prices tumbled after the detection of a possibly vaccine-resistant coronavirus variant sent investors scurrying toward the safety of bonds, the yen and the dollar.
Little is known of the variant, detected in South Africa, Botswana and Hong Kong, though scientists said it has an unusual combination of mutations and may be able to evade immune responses or make it more transmissible.
TAKASHI HIROKI, CHIEF STRATEGIST, MONEX, TOKYO
“This variant is a new risk for markets. We can’t tell how far it can evade vaccines.”
RAY ATTRILL, HEAD OF FX STRATEGY, NAB, SYDNEY
“People are reacting with the uncertainty about what this means. You shoot first and ask questions later when this sort of news erupts.”
MOH SIONG SIM, CURRENCY ANALYST, BANK OF SINGAPORE
“We still don’t know how infectious the virus is … it’s a general uncertainty. Markets are anticipating the risk here of another global wave of infections if vaccines are ineffective.
“Reopening hopes could be dashed.”
MARK ARNOLD, CIO, HYPERION ASSET MANAGEMENT, BRISBANE
“I don’t think there’s any going back to the pre-COVID world. We’re just going to get mutations through time and that’s going to change the way people operate in the economy. That’s just reality.”
SHINICHIRO KADOTA, SENIOR FX STRATEGIST, BARCLAYS, TOKYO
“We see Germany considering a lockdown, so this new variant and flare-up in the COVID situation poses some risk to market sentiment in general.
“If the COVID situation worsens, then dollar-yen could go down further, but otherwise the monetary policy divergence is definitely going to be weighing on the yen in the medium term.”
MARTIN WHETTON, HEAD OF FIXED INCOME, CBA, SYDNEY
“Keep an eye on the new COVID-19 variant. None of us are virologists, but all of us have seen the impact this has had on the intended path of central bank policy and markets.”
JEFFREY HALLEY, ANALYST, OANDA, JAKARTA
“The UK has paused flights from South Africa and five other neighboring countries, and we can expect more of this elsewhere. The complacency seen with the emergence of the delta variant in India being a lesson harshly learned.
“The one bull in the China shop that could truly derail the global recovery has always been a new strain of COVID-19 that swept the world and caused the reimposition of mass social retractions. All we know so far is the B.1.1.529 is heavily mutated, but markets are taking no chances.”
(Reporting by Tom Westbrook in Sydney and Kevin Buckland and Hideyuki Sano in Tokyo; Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips)