EMERGING MARKETS-FX, stocks rise as positive vaccine data tempers Omicron worries

·3 min read

* Data from BioNTech, Pfizer calms Omicron fears

* Chinese property debt in focus

* Polish zloty sinks after rate hike disappoints

By Shashank Nayar and Ambar Warrick

Dec 9 (Reuters) - Most emerging markets rose on Thursday as positive data from vaccine makers tempered fears surrounding the Omicron variant, with Chinese stocks gaining after sluggish factory inflation raised the prospect of further monetary stimulus.

MSCI's index for emerging market stocks rose 0.8%, while currencies inched 0.1% higher, on track to gain for a third consecutive session.

Sentiment was boosted after BioNTech and Pfizer said on Wednesday that a three-shot course of their COVID-19 vaccine was able to neutralise the Omicron variant in a laboratory test.

China's yuan hovered around a more than 3-1/2-year high against the dollar, while stocks jumped for a third session as slowing factory-gate inflation added to expectations that policymakers would act further to boost economic growth.

Focus was also on potential debt defaults in the China's property market after a report said Kaisa Group had started work on restructuring its offshore debt worth $12 billion.

According to a media report https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-12-09/evergrande-defaults-for-first-time-as-china-debt-strains-spread, China's no.2 property developer China Evergrande has defaulted for the first time on its dollar debt payments.

The market has been watching whether the real-estate giant, which is grappling with more than $300 billion in liabilities and is at risk of becoming China's biggest ever default, can pay $82.5 million coupons with a 30-day grace period coming to an end.

The Chinese central bank had cut bank reserve requirements earlier this week, as it sought to shore up economic growth. The move had boosted emerging markets as well as commodity prices.

"We see two major themes guiding markets currently: risk and central banks. On the risk side, the focus remains on the Omicron variant's impact on global growth expectations, supply chains, and "bad" inflation," analysts at TD Securities wrote in a note.

In central Europe, Poland's zloty weakened 0.1% after the central bank's rate hike on Wednesday fell short of some expectations for a large raise, as inflation touched 20-year highs.

The Turkish lira weakened 0.5% at 13.75 against the dollar, and was the worst performer among its emerging market peers.

President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday Turks should be patient and trust his government's new economic model, under which he has prioritised economic growth driven by low interest rates.

Despite the positive vaccine news, investors remained wary of any further restrictions in response to the Omicron variant. Upcoming U.S. inflation data on Friday also brewed fears that a strong reading could accelerate the Federal Reserve's plan for raising interest rates.

The South African rand was flat as investors maintained a cautious stance ahead of a raft of key economic data releases that include current account, mining and manufacturing figures.

A robust current account, driven by strong commodity exports, has benefited the rand this year, despite COVID-19 and political headwinds.

For GRAPHIC on emerging market FX performance in 2021, see http://tmsnrt.rs/2egbfVh For GRAPHIC on MSCI emerging index performance in 2021, see https://tmsnrt.rs/2OusNdX

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(Reporting by Shashank Nayar in Bengaluru; Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips)

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