SYDNEY - Asian shares were mixed on Thursday after a choppy day of Wall Street trade, thanks in part to a disappointing U.S. jobs report, while the greenback languished near 2-1/2 year lows on growing optimism of a coronavirus vaccine.
Britain became the first Western country to approve a COVID-19 vaccine, with 800,000 doses of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine available for those at high risk starting next week.
Hopes that the pandemic, which has so far killed nearly 1.5 million globally, will finally be brought to its knees sparked a risk-on rally in currency markets with Australian and New Zealand dollars advancing against their U.S. counterpart.
The dollar index slipped to 2 1/2-year low of 90.987 on Wednesday and last stood at 91.048.
"Currency investors are taking on more risk following the latest vaccine breakthroughs, options show," Morgan Stanley said in a note.
Hopes of a fiscal support package in the United States also boosted investor optimism.
But share traders were less enthused.
MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside of Japan were barely changed following two straight days of gains.
Japan's Nikkei was 0.2% weaker while South Korea's KOSPI was flat and Australia's benchmark index .AXJO was slightly higher. Chinese shares opened a tad lower, with the blue-chip CSI300 index off 0.03%.
“Markets are quite likely to muddle through from here,” said Michael Frazis, portfolio manager at Frazis Capital Partners in Sydney.
“The vaccine is increasingly priced in. A couple of months ago, no one knew how deep coronavirus would be, or what the outcome of the election was. Now both sources of uncertainty have been removed.”
Worries that the U.S. economy may be decelerating weighed on shares after U.S. private payrolls showed fewer jobs than expected were added in November as growing new COVID-19 infections led to additional business restrictions.
Overnight, Wall Street swung between red and green territories but eventually ended a tad firmer. The Dow Jones and the S&P 500 gained 0.2% each while the tech-heavy Nasdaq was barely moved.
In currencies, the risk-sensitive Aussie hit a more than two-year high of $0.7420 overnight and was last at $0.7399. Its kiwi cousin was last at $0.7062, hovering near the highest since May 2018.
The euro fetched $1.2113, having reached its loftiest level since late April 2018 in the previous day's trade.
In commodities, oil prices slipped on Thursday after rising overnight on COVID-19 vaccine hopes and expectations producing countries would keep limits on their output.
Brent crude was down 13 cents at $48.11 a barrel while U.S. light crude eased 15 cents to $45.13.
Gold was slightly weaker at $1,827 an ounce.
(Reporting by Swati Pandey in Sydney and Jessica DiNapoli in New York; Editing by Stephen Coates and Gerry Doyle) ((Jessica.DiNapoli@thomsonreuters.com; 646-223-4678;))