Oil up, stocks down over Middle East conflict

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TOKYO: Oil prices rose and Asian stock markets fell Wednesday after Iran fired missiles at US bases in Iraq in retaliation for the killing of an Iranian general. Brent crude futures, the benchmark for international oils, spiked more than $3 per barrel in London before retreating. Tokyo’s stock market benchmark fell nearly two per cent before recovering some of its losses and Hong Kong’ was off 1pc. Shanghai, Australia and Southeast Asian markets also retreated. “Investors appear to be pricing for an all-out war,” Jingyi Pan of IG said in a report. The Pentagon said Iran fired more than a dozen missiles at bases in Iraq used by US troops. President Donald Trump tweeted “All is well!” and that casualty and damage assessments were ongoing, adding “So far, so good!” Iran’s foreign minister described the missile firings as “proportionate measures in self-defense.” Financial markets have been on edge about possible US-Iranian conflict and disruption of oil supplies since last week’s killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani by a US drone in Baghdad. Brent crude was up 73 cents at $69.02. At the start of Wednesday’s trading, it spiked $3.48 to $71.75 before retreating. Benchmark US crude was up 61 cents to $63.31 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It earlier jumped $2.95 to $65.65 before settling back. Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 index fell 1.5pc to 23,221.08 and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng fell 1pc to 28,031.54. The Shanghai Composite Index lost 1.2pc to 3,067.82 and South Korea’s Kospi retreated 1.1pc to 3,068.02. Sydney’s S&P-ASX 200 shed 0.1pc to 6,817.60 and India’s Sensex opened down 0.7pc at 40,566.78. Taiwan, New Zealand and Southeast Asian markets also retreated. Before the latest attack, the rush by investors into safe assets had been abating. Gold’s momentum eased Tuesday after touching its highest price in nearly seven years. On Wall Street, the benchmark S&P 500 index lost 0.3pc to 3,237.18 in trading that closed before the Iranian attack. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 0.4pc to 28,583.68. The Nasdaq composite slipped less than 0.1pc to 9,068.58. In currency markets, the dollar declined to 108.31 yen from Tuesday’s 108.44 yen. The euro was unchanged at $1.1151.