Stocks, gold and oil whipsawed as Iran strikes pushes Mideast to brink


08 Jan, 2020 10:01 am

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Financial markets were roiled on Wednesday after Iran fired missiles at US forces in Iraq, sending Asian stocks and US Treasury yields sliding and sharply lifting oil prices as investors feared a wider conflict in the Middle East.

Iran’s missile attacks on the Ain Al-Asad air base and another in Erbil, Iraq, early Wednesday came hours after the funeral of an Iranian commander whose killing in a US drone strike has intensified tensions in the region.

By late morning in Asia, however, equities had trimmed losses, the yen had stabilised somewhat and US bonds tempered their rally as investors paused for breath, and as a US official said the United States was not aware of any casualties from the strikes.

“We are getting exaggerated moves but that’s of course volatility playing. Markets simply hate uncertainty. It’s an old adage but it definitely holds true in the current situation – markets can price risks but they can’t price uncertainty,” said James McGlew, executive director of corporate stockbroking at Argonaut in Perth.

U.S. President Donald Trump said in a tweet late on Tuesday that an assessment of casualties and damage from the strikes was under way and that he would make a statement on Wednesday morning.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS was down 0.47% around 0400 GMT, having dropped more than 1% earlier in the day. China’s blue-chip CSI300 index .CSI300 was 0.48% lower.

Japan’s Nikkei .N225 was down 1.2%, also paring earlier losses of over 2%, while Australian shares clawed back from a more-than-1% drop to shed just 0.14%. U.S. S&P500 e-mini stock futures ESc1, which had earlier dropped nearly 1.7%, were down 0.26%.

Rob Carnell, Asia-Pacific chief economist at ING in Singapore, said possible further escalation of tensions between Iran and the United States could still provoke a prolonged negative market reaction.

“If you see US treasuries rallying a bit this morning, expect them to rally quite a bit further should there be a forceful response from the United States, which I’d imagine there would be…from a market perspective I think this one could run and run,” he said.

The yield on benchmark 10-year US Treasury notes US10YT=RR last stood at 1.7899%, down from a U.S. close of 1.825% on Tuesday, but up from session lows. U.S. 10-year Treasury futures TYc1 had earlier peaked at their highest level since November, and were last up 0.24%.

The two-year yield US2YT=RR fell to 1.5223% compared with a U.S. close of 1.546%.

The yen, which had hit its strongest point against the greenback since October in morning trade, gave up nearly all its gains midday in Japan. The U.S. currency was last down just 0.06% against the yen at 108.35 JPY=.

The euro EUR= was up 0.03% to buy $1.1154 and the dollar index .DXY, which measures the greenback against six major peers, was 0.10% lower at 96.909.

In commodity markets, global benchmark Brent crude futures LCOc1 shot back above $70 per dollar to their highest level since mid-September, but were last up 1.61% at $69.37 per barrel. U.S. crude CLc1 added 1.5% to $63.64 a barrel.

Gold also fell below a key psychological level as initial fears eased. The precious metal was 1% higher on the spot market XAU= at $1,590.21 per ounce, having earlier blasted through $1,600. [GOL/] Analysts said markets will be closely watching for confirmation of any US casualties from Iran’s strikes.

“If it does look like we’ve got U.S. casualties, then I don’t think Trump is going to just stand back and take that,” said Matt Simpson, a senior market analyst at Gain Capital in Singapore. “World War III has been thrown around. I don’t think we’re there yet. But it does look like Iraq II.”

Reports of the attack threw the market off balance after better-than-expected data in the US non-manufacturing sector helped to lift the dollar overnight.

The Institute for Supply Management said its non-manufacturing activity index rose to 55.0 last month from 53.9 in November, indicating a faster rate of expansion.

Shares on Wall Street had nonetheless fallen on Tuesday amid worries over U.S.-Iran tensions. The Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI fell 0.42%, the S&P 500 .SPX lost 0.28% and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC dropped 0.03%.


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