HONG KONG: Most Asian markets rose Friday as beleaguered investors trudged into the weekend after a painful few days, with confidence dealt a heavy blow by the Delta variant, Chinese regulatory crackdowns, disappointing economic data and brewing geopolitical tensions.
The gains came despite another tepid lead from Wall Street, which was pulled between better-than-expected US retails sales and an above-forecast reading on jobless claims.
Thursday's readings were not enough to provide any insight into when the Federal Reserve might start winding down the ultra-loose monetary policy that has been key to a global economic and equity rally for more than a year.
The main focus for investors is now the bank's latest policy meeting next week, where it could say how much and how long it will dial back on the vast bond-buying programme.
"They'll probably admit they're going to taper, but maybe not taper as much as everybody thought," markets strategist Louis Navellier said.
Eyes are also on the progress of Joe Biden's multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure and social spending plans, which are struggling through Congress. At the same time, lawmakers are still to agree on raising the debt ceiling -- bring the possibility of a catastrophic US default into play.
That all comes against the backdrop of the highly transmissible Delta Covid mutation, which has sent infections around the world surging and forced several countries to reimpose lockdowns and other containment measures.
Among them is China, where a new outbreak has spooked traders just weeks after officials had appeared to have brought another under control. The new flare-up has led to concerns that the world's number two economy and key driver of world growth, which was already stuttering, could suffer further.
And while September is considered by analysts to be the weakest month for investing, the past week has been particularly bad for Hong Kong, where tech firms fell on more regulatory oversight and Macau-based casinos were strafed by plans for a government crackdown.
Some of the gambling industry's biggest names -- including Sands and Wynn -- were skittled by Macau government proposals to tighten its grip on the sector, wiping billions of dollars off their values on concerns that a golden era of money-making could be over.
Still, Hong Kong squeezed out small gains on Friday, with casinos and tech seeing tentative advances, while Shanghai, Seoul, Wellington, Taipei, Manila and Jakarta were also up.
Tokyo resumed its recent advances as the ruling party started a leadership election to determine Japan's next prime minister, with hopes that the winner will push through a new massive stimulus package.
The general consensus is that the world economy will eventually rebound from the pandemic crisis, and equities will extend gains this year, but some observers are growing cautious.
"Investors just should be prepared for the fact that returns are much more likely to be muted over the next five years than what we've really benefited (from) and enjoyed over the last five," Jim McDonald, of Northern Trust Bank, told Bloomberg Television.
Key figures around 0230 GMT
Tokyo - Nikkei 225: UP 0.5 percent at 30,485.11 (break)
Hong Kong - Hang Seng Index: UP 0.5 percent at 24,794.02
Shanghai - Composite: UP 0.3 percent at 3,618.96
Dollar/yen: UP at 109.88 yen from 109.71 yen at 2050 GMT
Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.1764 from $1.1773
Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.3789 from $1.3798
Euro/pound: UP at 85.32 pence from 85.29 pence
West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 0.2 at $72.48 per barrel
Brent North Sea crude: UP 0.2 percent at $75.54 per barrel
New York - Dow: DOWN 0.2 percent at 34,751.32 (close)
London - FTSE 100: UP 0.2 percent at 7,027.48 (close)