SYDNEY: Stocks and oil slid sharply on Monday (Nov 28) as rare protests in major Chinese cities against the country's strict zero-COVID policy raised worries about the management of the virus in the world's second-largest economy.
MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan slumped 2.2 per cent, pulled lower by heavy selling in Chinese markets.
Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index shed 4.16 per cent, China's CSI300 Index declined 2.22 per cent and the yuan fell in morning trade.
"The market does not like uncertainties that are difficult to price and the China protests clearly fall into this category. It means investors will become more risk-averse," Gary Ng, Natixis economist in Hong Kong told Reuters.
"The China-linked markets across Asia, such as Australia, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Korea, are more likely to see a larger impact."
Australia's benchmark stock index lost 0.56 per cent while its currency was off more than 1 per cent. Japan's Nikkei stock index was down 0.76 per cent.
South Korea's KOSPI 200 index retreated 1.35 per cent in early trade and New Zealand's S&P/NZX50 Index was off 0.42 per cent.
S&P 500 and Nasdaq futures both fell, pointing to possible declines in Wall Street later in the day.
The bigger worries about China's COVID-19 policies dwarfed any support to investor sentiment from the central bank's 25 basis point cut to the reserve requirement ratio (RRR) announced on Friday, which frees up about US$70 billion in liquidity to prop up a faltering economy.
In Shanghai, demonstrators and police clashed on Sunday night as protests over the country's stringent COVID restrictions flared for the third day.
There were also protests in Wuhan, Chengdu and parts of the capital Beijing as COVID-19 restrictions were put in place in an attempt to quell fresh outbreaks.
"There is a tail risk that the road to living with COVID is too slow, surging COVID cases fuels more protests and social unrest further weakens the economy are market concerns," said Robert Subbaraman, Nomura's Asia ex-Japan, chief economist.
"Things are very fluid. Protests could also be the catalyst that leads to a positive outcome in leading the government to set a clearer game plan on how the country is going to learn to live with COVID, setting a more transparent timetable, and accelerating China's move to living with COVID."
The dollar extended gains against the yuan, rising 0.87 per cent.
The COVID-19 rules and resulting protests are creating fears the economic hit for China will be greater than expected.
"Even if China is on a path to eventually move away from its zero-COVID approach, the low level of vaccination among the elderly means the exit is likely to be slow and possibly disorderly," CBA analysts said on Monday. "The economic impacts are unlikely to be small."
China's case numbers have hit record highs, with nearly 40,000 new infections on Saturday.
Fears about Chinese economic growth also hit commodities in Asia trade.
US crude dipped 2.81 per cent to US$74.14 a barrel and Brent crude fell 2.57 per cent to US$81.48 per barrel, as the COVID-19 protests in top importer China fuelled demand worries.
Yields on benchmark 10-year Treasury notes rose to 3.66 per cent from its US close of 3.70 per cent on Friday. The two-year yield, which tracks traders' expectations of Fed fund rates, touched 4.45 per cent compared with a US close of 4.48 per cent.
The dollar dropped 0.3 per cent against the yen to 138.64 after initially trading higher earlier in the day. It remains well off its high this year of 151.94 on Oct 21.
The euro fell 0.5 per cent, having gained 4.94 per cent in a month, while the dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of currencies of other major trading partners, was up at 106.49.
Gold was slightly lower. Spot gold was traded at US$1750.49 per ounce.