Omicron worries drag Thai baht lower, Malaysia stocks up 1%

  • China sees highest daily rise in COVID-19 cases in 21 months
  • Chinese yuan weakens 0.1%, stocks reverse gains
  • Top Glove jumps 10%, Hartalega rises 4%

Dec 27 (Reuters) - The Thai baht weakened on Monday as rising cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant dimmed tourism prospects and stoked worries of a slowdown in economic recovery, while a rally in glove makers helped Malaysian equities jump 1%.

Coronavirus cases have risen sharply in Japan and China, leaving investors worried potentially tighter restrictions in the region's top two economies countries would hinder activity. Tokyo shares (.N225) marked their worst session in a week.

Asian currencies were mixed, with Singapore and Taiwan's dollars both firming 0.2%, while the Indonesian rupiah and the Philippine peso eased.

Financial market activity was subdued in the last week of the year with some centres closed for public holidays.

The baht dropped 0.4% to 33.550 per dollar, easing beyond a support level at 33.50. The currency is set to become Asia's worst performer this year, weighed down by a hit to tourism, a key driver of Thailand's economic growth that has been hammered by the pandemic.

The country last week reinstated mandatory quarantine for foreign arrivals and later scrapped some New Year events on finding its first Omicron cluster.

The baht has significantly exceeded its expected depreciation due to struggles with tourism reopening, and a greater current account deterioration relative to other countries, Bank of America analysts wrote in a note.

Malaysian equities (.KLSE) hit a five-week high, driven by a 10% surge in Top Glove Corp , the world's biggest medical glove maker, and a 4% rise in rival Hartalega Holdings (HTHB.KL). Both firms usually benefit from negative COVID-19 headlines.

The yuan eased 0.1% while Shanghai equities (.SSEC) reversed gains as investors assessed what China's new pledge to make "appropriate" infrastructure investments in 2022 would mean for the country's beleaguered property sector. read more

South Korean shares (.KS11) slipped 0.4% as investors booked profit on semiconductor stocks after last week's rally.

Equities in Taiwan (.TWII) and the Philippines (.PSI) rose 0.5% each, while most other markets traded down 0.1% to up 0.1%.


** Chinese city of Xian remained under lockdown for a fifth day on Monday as authorities reported 150 new local symptomatic coronavirus cases for Sunday read more

** Indonesian 10-year benchmark yields are down 3.8 basis points at 6.352%

** In the Philippines, top index gainers are: Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI.PS), up 3.41%, and Wilcon Depot Inc (WLCON.PS), up 3.16%

Reporting by Anushka Trivedi in Bengaluru; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu

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