Global Shares Mostly Rise Despite Mounting Omicron Worries

TOKYO (AP) -- Global shares were mostly higher Wednesday amid nervous trading due to worries over the newest coronavirus variant.

France's CAC 40 edged up 0.5% in early trading to 6,751.87, while Germany's DAX added 0.7% to 15,206.89. Britain's FTSE 100 jumped 1.1% to 7,137.60. U.S. shares were set to drift higher with Dow futures up 0.5% at 34,617.00. S&P 500 futures rose 0.8% to 4,602.50.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 rose 0.4% to finish at 27,935.62. South Korea's Kospi jumped 2.1% to 2,899.72. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 dipped 0.3% to 7,235.90. Hong Kong's Hang Seng gained 0.8% to 23,658.92, while the Shanghai Composite added 0.4% to 3,576.89.

The detection of the omicron variant in Japan and other countries has raised fears that further measures to contain infections may squelch tourism and other economic activity. Experts say it may take weeks before they better understand whether the omicron variant causes serious illness.

Japan banned all foreign visitors starting Tuesday as an emergency precaution against the new variant. The ban tentatively extends through the end of the year. The government is also requiring Japanese nationals arriving in the country to quarantine for up to 14 days.

Tuesday's move had included some exceptions such as foreigners with permanent residency permits and their spouses and children and students on government scholarships.

On Wednesday, the government said such exceptions will be eliminated for foreigners entering from South Africa and nine nearby nations. Other stricter border controls may kick in, according to publics broadcaster NHK TV.

Anderson Alves, a trader at ActivTrades, said Asian markets were nervous after an overnight slide on Wall Street and comments from Moderna's CEO that existing COVID-19 vaccines may be less effective against omicron than earlier variants.

"Traders will look for new insights regarding the new variant and its impact on the current vaccine framework," Alves said.

Markets are also concerned about actions of the U.S. Federal Reserve after its head said it will consider shutting off its support for financial markets sooner than expected. Fed Chair Jerome Powell told Congress this week that the central bank may halt the billions of dollars of bond purchases it's making every month "perhaps a few months sooner."

It had been on pace to wrap up the purchases, meant to goose the economy by lowering rates for mortgages and other long-term loans, in June. That would open the door for the Fed to raise short-term interest rates from their record low of nearly zero and dilute a major factor that has sent stocks to record heights, swatting away concerns about an overly pricey market.

If omicron does ultimately do heavy damage to the global economy, it could put the Federal Reserve in a difficult spot. Usually, the central bank will lower interest rates, which encourages borrowers to spend more and investors to pay higher prices for stocks. But low rates can also encourage inflation, which is already high across the global economy.

In energy trading, benchmark U.S. crude added $2.54 to $68.72 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It plunged $3.77 to $66.18 per barrel on Tuesday. Brent crude, the international standard, fell $2.46 to $71.69 a barrel.

In currency trading, the U.S. dollar rose to 113.56 Japanese yen from 113.11 yen. The euro cost $1.1311, down from $1.1337.