Japanese shares fall, struggle to shake off Delta variant fears

TOKYO, Aug 19 (Reuters) - Japanese shares slipped on Thursday, struggling to shake off concerns that the spreading Delta coronavirus variant could delay an economic recovery.

By midday recess, the Nikkei share average fell 0.69% to 27,394.43, inching closer to near seven-month low of 27,272 touched on July 30. The broader Topix lost 0.74% to 1,909,70.

“At the moment, there is no clear case to buy Japanese shares. But support for the Nikkei seems solid around the 27,000 mark,” said Hiroyuki Ueno, senior strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Asset.

Record COVID-19 cases sprang up across Japan on Wednesday, the media said, a day after the government expanded emergency measures to fight a wave fuelled by the infectious Delta variant that has put the medical system under threat.

Soft oil prices hit shares of trading houses, with Mitsui Co losing 5.5% and Marubeni shedding 2.6%.

Oil companies also suffered, with Eneos Holdings, Idemitsu Kosan and Inpex losing, 3.1%, 2.8% and 3.5%, respectively.

Semiconductor-related shares continued to suffer from fears about slowing growth, with Screen Holdings 5.9% and Advantest losing 2.3%.

Cyclicals such as steelmakers, non-ferrous metal firms and securities brokerages slumped, with fall of 3.2%, 2.3% and 1.6% respectively.

Online brokerage and owner of a cryptocurrency exchange Monex fell 5.2% after a media report that U.S. cryptocurrency exchange operator Coinbase will start a service in Japan.

On the other hand, the country’s deepening health crisis boosted developers of drugs and vaccines for COVID-19.

Chugai Pharmaceutical rose 4.6%, while Shionogi gained 4.2% and Daiichi Sankyo added 3.4%. (Reporting by Hideyuki Sano, additional reporting by Daiki Iga; editing by Uttaresh.V)