HONG KONG: The new year got off to a mixed start on Monday in holiday-thinned Asian trade, following a healthy run-up at the end of last week, with some cheer provided by data suggesting regional economies improved last month.
However, investors remain shackled by concerns about a range of issues including the fast-spreading Omicron variant, inflation, the removal of central bank stimulus and geopolitical tensions.
While the last few months of 2021 were marked by uncertainty on trading floors, global stocks enjoyed blockbuster rallies in 2021 as economies reopened and lives in most countries returned to some semblance of normal, fuelling optimism that the recovery would stay on track.
And data showing factory activity picked up last month across the region -- including South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia and the Philippines -- provided a little optimism to start the year. The readings come after China posted a better-than-forecast figure on Friday thanks to a dip in commodity prices.
Singapore enjoyed healthy gains thanks to news that the city-state's economy expanded 7.2 percent last year, having suffered in 2020 its worst performance since independence.
Seoul, Taipei and Jakarta also rose, though Manila dipped.
Jun Rong Yeap, of IG Asia, said: "While the rising Omicron spreads may warrant a cautious approach toward reopening, some expectations may be that improved vaccinations will aid to limit the eventual economic impact."
Hong Kong reversed early gains, with tech firms acting as a major drag, while sentiment was also hurt by news that trading in embattled developer China Evergrande had been suspended and providing a reminder of the crisis in China's vast property sector.
Tokyo, Shanghai, Sydney, Wellington and Bangkok were closed for holidays.
Oil prices edged up slightly as eyes turn to the latest meeting of OPEC and other major producers on Tuesday, where they will discuss plans to lift output in light of the impact of Omicron, which has forced some governments to impose lockdowns and airlines to cancel flights.
The commodity was getting some support from a drop in Libyan output as workers try to fix a pipeline after a militia closed down the country's biggest oilfield.
"I think OPEC+'s decision is a foregone conclusion and Omicron news and data will remain the major influence on oil sentiment," Vandana Hari, of Vanda Insights, said.
"We're likely seeing some bargain hunting (Monday) after a rush to sell at the end of last week."
Key figures around 0230 GMT
Hong Kong - Hang Seng Index: DOWN 0.2 percent at 23,352.43
Tokyo - Nikkei 225: Closed for public holiday
Shanghai - Composite: Closed for public holiday
Dollar/yen: UP at 115.25 yen from 115.11 yen late Friday
Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.1351 from $1.1370
Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.3513 from $1.3526
Euro/pound: DOWN at 84.00 pence from 84.04
Brent North Sea crude: UP 0.3 percent at $78.00 per barrel
New York - DOW: DOWN 0.2 percent at 36,338.30 (close)
London - FTSE 100: DOWN 0.3 percent at 7,384.54 (close)
-- Bloomberg News contributed to this story --