SEOUL, Dec. 17 (Yonhap) — South Korean stocks closed nearly flat Thursday as investors remained wary of spiking COVID-19 cases and looming virus restrictions. The Korean won rose against the U.S. dollar.

The benchmark Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI) fell 1.36 points, or 0.05 percent, to 2,770.43 points.

Trading volume was moderate at about 998.4 million shares worth some 15.8 trillion won (US$14.5 billion), with losers outnumbering gainers 493 to 352.

Foreigners sold a net 301.1 billion won, and institutions offloaded a net 32.6 billion won. Retail investors picked up a net 326.3 billion won.

The main index started off weak as South Korea reported 1,014 new COVID-19 cases, the third-largest daily virus caseload.

Health authorities are currently considering adopting the strongest virus curbs, which would ban gatherings of 10 or more people and require companies to make nonessential employees work from home.

The index, however, trimmed losses later in the session as investors pinned hopes on progress in a new stimulus deal in the United States.

“Investors seemed to cash in gains after the KOSPI hit a fresh high the previous day,” Samsung Securities analyst Seo Jung-hoon said. “There are also growing hopes for a new U.S. stimulus deal by the end of this year, following optimistic remarks by both Democratic and Republican leadership.”

Most large caps in Seoul ended mixed.

Market bellwether Samsung Electronics shed 0.68 percent to 73,300 won, while No. 2 chipmaker SK hynix gained 1.7 percent to 119,500 won.

Leading chemical firm LG Chem added 1.34 percent to 830,000 won, and rechargeable battery maker Samsung SDI rose 0.53 percent to 567,000 won.

Hyundai Motor, the country’s largest carmaker, edged up 0.26 percent to 190,500 won.

Pharmaceutical giant Samsung Biologics fell 0.37 percent to 804,000 won, and Celltrion slipped 0.57 percent to 351,500 won.

Internet portal giant Naver inched down 0.18 percent to 285,000 won, with rival Kakao declining 0.81 percent to 369,000 won.

The local currency closed at 1,093.3 won against the U.S. dollar, up 0.7 won from the previous session’s close.

Bond prices, which move inversely to yields, ended lower. The yield on three-year Treasurys added 1 basis point to 0.999 percent, and the return on the benchmark five-year government bond rose 2.8 basis points to 1.367 percent.