Asian stocks mixed in quiet end of year trading

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Major share benchmarks were mostly lower in Asia on Monday at the outset of the last trading week of the year as countries grappled with the spread of the omicron coronavirus variant.

Benchmarks fell in Shanghai, Bangkok, Tokyo and Seoul. Taiwan and India were higher. Many global markets are closed for holidays.

Comments by China's central bank, or People's Bank of China, over the weekend about support for the economy highlighted differences in stances among major economies balancing the need to support economic recoveries from the pandemic while keeping inflation in check.

The Federal Reserve is among a handful of central banks that have already begun cutting interest rates or otherwise cutting back on the extra support they provided when the pandemic first slammed world economies in early 2020.

"The divergences in global monetary policy are set for a sharper turn heading into the new year, especially after the PBOC's announcement that it will remain 'proactive' in its use of monetary policy tools," Mizuho Bank said in a commentary.

"With Omicron cases rising across China, pushing regions into lock downs and tighter social restrictions, a case for additional growth support is increasingly clearer," it said. The Shanghai Composite index edged 0.2% lower to 3,612.65, while Thailand's SET edged down less than 0.1%.

Tokyo's Nikkei 225 index lost 0.4% to 28,676.46 and the Kospi in Seoul declined 0.4% to 3,001.57. India's Sensex gained 0.1% to 57,189.09. Markets were closed in Hong Kong, Malaysia and Australia.

Markets were meandering after a mixed day of quiet trading on Friday, when many markets around the world were closed or ending early in observance of Christmas.

Last week, the S&P 500 set another record as fears ebbed about the potential impact of omicron outbreaks. However, much is still uncertain about the variant, which is spreading extremely quickly, leading to a return to pandemic restrictions in some places.

Hundreds of flights were cancelled in the U.S. over the holiday weekend, with airlines reporting COVID-related staffing problems. France reported more than 100,000 new cases in a daily record.

Authorities in many countries have doubled down on vaccination efforts as omicron outbreaks complicate efforts stave off fresh lockdowns while hospitals are still under strain from delta variant infections.

In energy markets Monday, U.S. benchmark crude oil gave up 93 cents to $72.86 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The price of Brent crude oil fell 20 cents to $75.59.

The U.S. dollar was at 114.47 Japanese yen, up from 114.38 yen late Friday. The euro slipped to $1.1316 from $1.1318.


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