Asia stocks fall as delta variant worries take center stage

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Currency traders wearing face masks talk each other at the foreign exchange dealing room of the KEB Hana Bank headquarters in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, Aug. 20, 2021. Asian stock markets were mostly lower Friday as worries surrounding the spread of the delta variant again took center stage. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

Asian stock markets fell Friday as worries surrounding the spread of the delta variant again took center stage.

Tokyo’s benchmark Nikkei 225 lost 1% to 27,013.25 and Seoul's Kospi fell 1.5% to 3,050.48. The Hang Seng in Hong Kong slipped 1.6% to 24,918.36 in afternoon trading.

The Shanghai Composite Index gave up 1.3% to 3,421.81. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 was down 0.1% at 7,460.90. Benchmarks in Singapore and Indonesia rose, while India's and New Zealand's fell.

Traders are watching mounting infections around the world, including in New Zealand, which is in lockdown after reporting its first outbreak in six months.

“With the number of COVID-19 infections on the rise, especially in the U.S., the threat from the delta variant is becoming more apparent spurring cautious risk sentiment,” said Venkateswaran Lavanya of Mizuho Bank.

Wall Street closed out another choppy day of trading on Thursday. The benchmark S&P 500 started the day in the red before gaining 0.1% to 4,405.80.

The Nasdaq composite also inched 0.1% higher to 14,541.79. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.2% to 34,894.12. All three indices were positioned for weekly losses.

Positive earnings reports from retailers lifted sentiment. Meanwhile, the Labor Department reported another weekly drop in the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits.

Claims fell 29,000 to 348,000 last week, in a pandemic low. This brought the four-week average to 378,000, also a pandemic low.

These numbers are one to watch if the trend continues, Yeap Jun Rong of IG said in a report.

“September’s jobs report may be of significance in determining the timeline for tapering. A continued robust recovery in the labor market may increase the chances of an earlier tapering timeline, potentially driving some volatility ahead,” he added.

Earlier this week, minutes from a recent U.S. Federal Reserve meeting showed that officials had discussed reducing asset purchases this year. But they stopped short of setting a firm timeline.

The Fed's symposium at Jackson Hole starting next Thursday could offer hints on when tapering will begin.

In energy trading, benchmark U.S. crude added 38 cents to $64.07 a barrel. Brent crude, the international standard, picked up 32 cents to $66.77 a barrel.

In currency trading, the U.S. dollar eased to 109.70 Japanese yen from Thursday's 109.74 yen. The euro advanced to $1.1686 from $1.1682.