Asian stocks led the way, with Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index (HSI)
dropping 2.7%, while Japan’s Nikkei 225 (N225)
was down 2.5%. European markets sold off heavily at the open too, with major indexes including the FTSE 100, France’s CAC40 and Germany’s DAX all down about 3%.
US markets, which were closed Thursday for Thanksgiving, were slammed before the start of Friday’s shortened trading session. Dow (INDU)
futures fell about 700 points, down 2%. Futures for the S&P 500 (INX)
and Nasdaq (COMP)
were down 1.6% and 1% respectively.
US crude sank 5% to around $74 a barrel. Brent crude, the global oil benchmark, fell 4.3%.
Investors were “spooked” by the discovery of the new Covid-19 variant in South Africa, Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst for Asia Pacific at Oanda, said in a research note on Friday.
South Africa’s health minister said Thursday that a new coronavirus variant appears to be spreading rapidly in parts of the country.
It has also been detected in Botswana, Hong Kong and Israel.
UK Health Minister Sajid Javid the variant “may be more transmissible” than the Delta strain and that “the vaccines that we currently have may be less effective.” The new strain has already prompted the UK government
to ban flights from six African countries.
Travel and airline stocks are among the biggest fallers Friday.
“With the delta wave in mind from earlier this year, investors are likely to shoot first and ask questions later until more is known about it,” Halley said.
— Rob North contributed to this article.