March 24, 2023

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On Friday, global stocks tumbled and oil prices went below $80 per barrel, after news hit of a new variant of the coronavirus that just might be resistant to the vaccine. This sent investors scurrying to the safety of the yen, bonds and the Swiss Franc. There is not much known about the new variant except that it was detected in Hong Kong, Botswana and South Africa. However, scientists have disclosed that it appears to have an unusual number of mutations, could be more transmissible and also evade immune responses. British authorities believe it is the most significant variant to have popped up till date and are now imposing travel restrictions on countries in southern Africa. 

The same was done by the Czech Republic, Italy and Japan on Friday. The European Union also announced that it was planning on halting travel from the region. Analysts said that markets had been quite complacent for a while when it came to the coronavirus pandemic, mostly because the economies had been able to withstand the effects of the selected lockdown measures. However, they said that there would be ramifications on oil prices because of the new bans imposed on air travel. 

Later on Friday, an experts’ meeting will be convened by the World Health Organization for evaluating whether the new variant is one of concern. There was a 0.8% decline in global shares that were on course for their worst week since the beginning of October. There was a 2.7% dip in European shares, as they were having their worst day since September of last year, with the worst impact seen in leisure and travel stocks. There was a 3% fall in Germany’s DAX and a 2.7% fall in Britain’s FTSE 100 that brought it to its lowest value in a month. 

The MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside of Japan declined by 2.2%, which is its sharpest fall since August. Beverage and casino shares got hammered in Hong Kong, while travel stocks saw a decline in Tokyo and Sydney. Japan’s Nikkei also plunged by 2.5% and there was a 1.8% fall in S&P 500 futures. Current analysts said that closure of the US markets due to the Thanksgiving holiday had only exacerbated the moves. They said that it was a must to determine how transmissible the variant is and whether it can evade the vaccines or not. 

There was also a decline in oil prices, as US crude futures also plunged by 5.7% and Brent crude declined by 4.66% to $73.96 a barrel and $78.38 due to fresh demand fears. Investors made the dash for safe-haven assets, which saw the yen increase by almost 1%, even though it had been languishing to almost five-year lows in this week. There was a 0.4% increase in the euro, as trade was driven by safety as opposed to differentials. However, the single currency fell to almost 6 and a half year lows. Likewise, there was also a 2% fall in the South African rand to an almost one year low. 

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