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Only one major Asia Pacific index is positive for the first half of 2020

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Employees and visitors wearing protective masks walk past an electronic stock board at the Shanghai Stock Exchange in Shanghai, China, on Monday, March 2, 2020.

Qilai Shen | Bloomberg via Getty Images

Only one major index in Asia Pacific ended the first half of 2020 in positive territory.

China’s CSI 300, which tracks the largest stocks listed on the mainland, has gained 1.64% in the past six months.

The rest of the major markets in the region painted a bleak picture of continued pain inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic. That’s despite many countries in Asia Pacific garnering international praise for their efforts in curbing the virus’ spread.

In New Zealand, a country that has arguably had the greatest success in containing the coronavirus outbreak domestically, the NZX 50 index still sat approximately 0.4% lower so far this year. Taiwan’s economy has been hailed as having held up “extremely well,” but the Taiex has still fallen more than 3% in 2020.

Southeast Asia’s best-performing market was Malaysia’s FTSE Bursa Malaysia KLCI Index — but even that was more than 5% lower for the year so far. In Vietnam, another country often lauded for its success in containing the virus, the VN-Index is still around 14% lower year to date. 

Here’s how other major Asia Pacific markets have performed so far in 2020, based on data from Refinitiv Eikon as well as CNBC calculations as of their Tuesday close:

Roller coaster 2020

The year initially started on a high note as the U.S. and China signed a phase one trade deal. That brought some relief from the protracted tensions between the two economic powerhouses, which slapped punitive tariffs on each other’s goods.

But the rapid spread of the coronavirus left economies effectively frozen, as authorities around the globe scrambled to contain its spread through lockdown measures.

The drop off in economic activity created a panic in global markets, which sold off in March. They have since surged from their lows as governments and central banks globally took unprecedented steps to support financial markets.

Still, more uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus may lie ahead in 2020. A recent surge in cases stateside has raised questions over the possibility of economies going back into lockdown. World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned Monday that “the worst is yet to come.”

“Although many countries have made some progress, globally, the pandemic is actually speeding up,” he said during a virtual news conference from the agency’s Geneva headquarters. “We all want this to be over. We all want to get on with our lives, but the hard reality is that this is not even close to being over.” 

So far, more than 10 million cases of coronavirus infections have been reported globally while at least half a million lives have been taken, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

In a Friday note, Shane Oliver, AMP Capital’s head of investment strategy and chief economist, highlighted “three big risks” ahead for markets:

  1. A second wave of coronavirus cases resulting in a renewed shutdown that could “drive a much deeper fall” in stocks.
  2. “Collateral damage” from the shutdown leading to a “stalling” in the recovery following the initial bounce.
  3. The upcoming U.S. presidential election in November where incumbent Donald Trump is expected to appeal to his base by ramping up tensions with China and possibly, even Europe.

“After a strong rally from March lows shares remain vulnerable to short term setbacks given uncertainties around coronavirus, economic recovery and US/China tensions. But on a 6 to 12-month horizon shares are expected to see good total returns helped by a pick-up in economic activity and massive policy stimulus,” Oliver said.

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Iran will develop oil industry despite U.S. sanctions, Iranian oil minister says

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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks on the fall in oil prices due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic during a cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran on April 22, 2020.

Presidency Of Iran Handout | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Iran is determined to develop its oil industry in spite of U.S. sanctions imposed on the country, Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said in a televised speech on Saturday.

“We will not surrender under any circumstances … We have to increase our capacity so that when necessary with full strength we can enter the market and revive our market share,” said Zanganeh.

The minister was speaking before the signing of a $294-million contract between the National Iranian Oil Company and Persia Oil & Gas, an Iranian firm, to develop the Yaran oilfield that is shared with neighboring Iraq’s Majnoon field.

The agreement aims to produce 39.5 million barrels of oil from the Yaran oilfield in Khuzestan province in  southwestern Iran, the Iranian Oil Ministry’s news agency SHANA said.

Hit by reimposed U.S. sanctions since Washington exited Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal in 2018, Iran’s oil exports are estimated at 100,000 to 200,000 barrels per day, down from more than 2.5 million bpd that Iran shipped in April 2018.

The Islamic Republic’s crude production has halved to around 2 million bpd.

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Seoul mayor’s death prompts sympathy, questions of his acts in South Korea

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The sudden death of Seoul’s mayor, reportedly implicated in a sexual harassment complaint, has prompted an outpouring of public sympathy even as it has raised questions about a man who built his career as a reform-minded politician and self-described feminist.

Park Won-soon was found dead on a wooded hill in northern Seoul early Friday, about seven hours after his daughter reported to police he had left her a “will-like” verbal message and then left their home. Authorities launched a massive search for the 64-year-old Park before rescue dogs found his body.

Police said there was no sign of foul play at the site though they refused to disclose the cause of death. On Friday morning, Seoul officials said they were releasing what they called Park’s “will” found at his residence at the request of his family.

“I feel sorry to everyone. I thank everyone who has been with me in my life,” the note shown on TV said. It continued with a request that his remains be cremated and scattered around his parents’ graves.

Park was a huge figure in South Korean politics. As a former human rights lawyer, he led two of South Korea‘s most influential civic groups and was mayor of Seoul, the South Korean capital city with 10 million people, since 2011. He was widely considered a leading liberal candidate for president when his political ally and current President Moon Jae-in‘s single five-year term ends in 2022.

His death shocked many.

People pay tribute at a memorial altar as they make a call of condolence in honor of the deceased Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon at the Seoul City Hall on July 11, 2020 in Seoul, South Korea. Seoul Mayor and presidential hopeful Park Won-soon was found dead at a Seoul mountain on Friday, hours after his family reported him missing, police said.

Chung Sung-Jun | Getty Images

His supporters wailed and shouted slogans like “We love you” and “We are sorry” when his body arrived at a Seoul hospital. His name was the most popular search word on main internet portal sites, and condolence messages flooded social media. On one TV program Friday morning, a panelist choked up and couldn’t continue talking about Park.

“I really respected him … I hope he can realize all his dreams in heaven,” Kim Young-hyun, a small business owner, said near Seoul City Hall.

But anti-Park sentiment also erupted amid media reports that one of his female secretaries had lodged a complaint with police on Wednesday night over alleged sexual harassment over an extend period. Police only confirmed that a complaint against Park had been filed but cited privacy issues in refusing to elaborate, including about whether the complaint was about sexual behavior.

The Associated Press made numerous calls to police, who declined to provide more details about the complaint.

Some critics questioned the image of a man who had portrayed himself as “a feminist mayor” dedicated to gender equality and a vocal supporter of the “#MeToo” movement.

During his days as a human rights lawyer, Park won South Korea’s first sexual harassment conviction in 1998, following a yearslong legal battle in which he represented a Seoul National University research assistant who accused a professor of making sexual advances and firing her after she rejected them. As mayor, he appointed a special adviser on gender equality issues and introduced policies aimed at designing safer urban environments for women and providing affordable housing for working single women.

“I think Park did something wrong. It’s also regrettable for anyone in public service to be embroiled in such an allegation regardless of whether it’s true or not,” said Lee Ji-hye, a resident near Seoul. “As a former human rights lawyer, he was accused of doing something bad but we cannot directly ask him about his position because he’s gone now. That’s very disappointing, too.”

Professor Yi Han Sang at Korea University criticized the Seoul city government for planning to establish a public mourning area near its building and use official funds for Park’s funeral next week. He said the city government must stop acts that could lead to public criticism of the alleged victim and focus on thinking about how to protect her and find the truth about the allegation.

A stream of Park’s fellow politicians affiliated with the governing Democratic Party and senior presidential officials visited a private mourning site at Seoul National University Hospital. Media photos showed sympathy flowers bearing President Moon Jae-in’s name placed there. Presidential chief of staff Noh Young-min told reporters at the hospital that Moon called Park’s death “very shocking,” Yonhap news agency reported.

When Lee Hae-chan, the Democratic Party chief, confronted journalists there, one asked him how the harassment allegations should be handled. Lee scolded the journalist for asking a “rude” question that he said shouldn’t be raised in that place.

There are worries that the public mourning for Park could lead to criticism of the alleged victim, whose identify is largely unknown. Ryu Ho-jeong of the small liberal opposition Justice Party wrote on Facebook that she won’t pay respects to Park, saying she doesn’t want the alleged victim to “feel lonely.” Her message drew both strong support and opposition online.

Though women’s rights have gradually improved in recent years, South Korea largely remains a male-centered society. The #MeToo movement that began in 2018 in South Korea successfully targeted many male celebrities, but the women who raised allegations sometimes faced strong online attacks and other backlash from supporters of the alleged abusers.

The most prominent South Korean man caught in the #MeToo movement was South Chungcheong Province Gov. Ahn Hee-jung, a liberal who is now serving a prison term of three and a half years for raping his former secretary. Earlier this year, Oh Keo-don, the former mayor of Busan, the country’s second-largest city, stepped down after a female public servant accused him of sexually assaulting her in his office.

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President Donald Trump commutes ally Roger Stone’s prison sentence

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President Donald Trump commutes ally Roger Stone’s prison sentence