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Asian shares rise after vaccine maker boosts Europe supplies

Asian stock markets gained Monday after coronavirus vaccine maker AstraZeneca agreed to increase supplies to Europe amid rising worries about the disease.

Tokyo, Hong Kong and Seoul advanced. Shanghai declined after surveys showed Chinese manufacturing weakened in January.

On Friday, Wall Street’s benchmark S&P 500 index lost 1.9 per cent after GameStop, a video game vendor, and some other shares that were expected to decline were sent soaring by day traders. Other investors said hedge funds that bet against those stocks were losing money and selling other shares.

Markets were rattled by AstraZeneca’s announcement it would supply the European Union with fewer than half the promised doses.

That prompted the EU to impose export controls. On Sunday, AstraZeneca promised to increase European supplies and start delivery earlier.

Concerns around the pandemic seemed to return in full force as vaccine distribution and efficacy issues re-emerged even with the virus spread gaining momentum, said Mizuho Bank in a report.

The Nikkei 225 in Tokyo gained 0.9 per cent to 27,905.26 and the Hang Seng in Hong Kong advanced 0.8 per cent to 28,527.85. The Kospi in Seoul added 1.7 per cent to 3,027.10.

The Shanghai Composite Index skidded 0.3 per cent to 3,471.17 after two surveys showed growth in Chinese manufacturing decelerated in January.

A purchasing managers’ index issued by business magazine Caixin declined to 51.5 from December’s 53 on a 100-point scale on which numbers above 50 reflect activity expanding. A separate PMI by the official statistics agency showed similar weakening.

The data suggest China’s rebound is leveling off, said Julian Evans-Pritchard of Capital Economics in a report.

Investors have bid up stocks in expectation the rollout of coronavirus vaccines would allow global business and travel to return to normal. But that optimism has been dented by new infection spikes and disruptions in vaccine deliveries.

On Sunday, the EU announced AstraZeneca has agreed to supply 9 million additional doses of its coronavirus vaccine to Europe.

The new target of 40 million doses by the end of March is still only half what the British-Swedish company had originally aimed for before it announced a shortfall due to production problems. The EU is behind the United States in vaccinating its 450 million people.

On Wall Street, anxiety mounted over struggle between hedge funds and day traders over GameStop, AMC Entertainment and a handful of other stocks.

The S&P 500 dropped 1.9 per cent to 3,714.24, giving the benchmark index its biggest weekly loss since October. The S&P 500 is still up 13.6 per cent since the end of October.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 2 per cent to 29,982.62 and the Nasdaq composite lost 2 per cent to 13,070.69.

Investors also are watching negotiations in Washington over President Joe Biden’s proposed USD 1.9 trillion economic aid package. Hopes for aid, along with the Federal Reserve’s pledge to keep low-cost credit plentiful, have carried the S&P 500 and other major indexes to record highs.

In energy markets, benchmark U.S. crude rose 18 cents to USD 52.38 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 14 cents on Friday to USD 52.20. Brent crude, the basis for pricing international oils, gained 32 cents to USD 55.37 per barrel in London. It advanced 35 cents the previous session to USD 55.88.

The dollar declined to 104.68 yen from 104.75 yen. The euro edged lower to USD 1.2129 from USD 1.2132.

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