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Asia stocks hit 16-month low on Ukraine nuclear plant fire

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Commodities19 minutes ago (Mar 04, 2022 02:31AM ET)


Asia stocks tumble to 16-month lows after Ukraine nuclear complex fire © Reuters. Investors sit in front of a board showing stock information at a brokerage house on the first day of trade in China since the Lunar New Year, in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China February 3, 2020. China Daily via REUTERS


By Anshuman Daga

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Asian equities and the euro slumped on Friday after news of a fire near a Ukraine nuclear facility following fighting with Russian forces heightened investor fears about the escalating conflict and sent oil prices higher.

The risk-off appetite battered markets across the region, with European bourses set for a weak open as while German shed 2.6% and futures lost 1.4%.

A fire that broke out in a training building near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest of its kind in Europe, during intense fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces has since been extinguished, authorities said on Friday.

While that has helped ease some of the initial panic that hit markets earlier in the day, investors remain extremely anxious about the conflict.

“Markets are worried about nuclear fallout. The risk is that there is a miscalculation or overreaction and the war prolongs,” said Vasu Menon, executive director of investment strategy at OCBC Bank.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares ex-Japan tumbled as much as 1.6% to 585.5, the lowest level since November 2020, taking the year-to-date losses to 7%.

“Markets don’t want a contagion effect and more European countries impacted by the crisis,” said Menon. “If investors are looking to buy, they need to have a strong and long-term risk appetite.”

Stock markets across Asia were in a sea of red, with Japan losing 2.5%, South Korea 1.1%, China 0.8% and Hong Kong 2.5% while commodities-heavy Australia was down 0.6%. shed 0.3% and Nasdaq futures fell 0.41%, paring sharp losses from early trading. Overnight, Wall Street ended lower as investors remained on edge over the Ukraine crisis, while rising prices of commodities also weighed on market sentiment.

Investors sought refuge in safe-haven U.S. Treasuries, sending yields on benchmark 10-year yields as much as 14 basis points lower to 1.7%. They later inched back up to 1.79%. Oil prices jumped on Friday after ending steady a day earlier, with the market also focused on whether the OPEC+ producers, including Saudi Arabia and Russia, would increase output from January.

futures for May rose to as much as $114.23 a barrel and were last up 0.5% at $111. The contract fell 2.2% on Thursday.

There was no let-up in other commodities also, with Chicago wheat futures jumping nearly 7%, taking the weekly gain to more than 40% on supply side worries.

On the economic data front, the U.S. employment report on Friday is expected to show another month of strong job growth, with the Omicron COVID-19 variant wave of infections significantly diminished.

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell on Thursday repeated his comments that he would back an initial quarter percentage point increase in the bank’s benchmark rate.

Economists said higher interest rates were needed to tame high inflation.

“Timely determined action from central banks is required to settle inflationary expectations as supply chain disruptions and rising energy prices boost current inflation. The war has intensified these forces,” Bill Evans, chief economist at Westpac, said in a note.

“Central banks have the responsibility to ensure that high inflationary expectations do not become embedded in the system – risking a wage/price spiral. Despite the uncertainties of the war this task should not be compromised,” he said.

Gold prices also rose on Friday, eyeing their best weekly gain since May 2021. edged up 0.1% to $1,936.9.

In currency markets, the euro lost further ground and was set for its worst week versus the dollar in nine months. It fell 0.3% to $1.10320 and traded above the day’s lows. It has lost about 1.8% this week, which would be the euro’s worst week since June 2021.

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