Equity markets mixed, oil falls as investors track Ukraine war

Pumpjacks are seen against the setting sun at the Daqing oil field in Heilongjiang province, China December 7, 2018. — Reuters pic
Pumpjacks are seen against the setting sun at the Daqing oil field in Heilongjiang province, China December 7, 2018. — Reuters pic

HONG KONG, March 24 — Equity markets were mixed today as investors contemplate the impact of surging inflation and central bank plans to sharply hike interest rates, while oil prices dipped but remain elevated on fears of further Russia sanctions that could hit already thin supplies.

The recent rally across equities over the past week appears to have run its course for now as investors nervously track developments in the Ukraine war, with efforts to reach a diplomatic solution crawling along.

All eyes are on meetings this week of Nato, where Joe Biden and other leaders are expected to discuss further punishing Moscow for the month-long invasion, while the European Union is still debating a possible embargo on Russian oil.

A warning from Russia that repairs at a terminal near a Black Sea port may take up to two months, causing a drop in exports of about one million barrels per day, added to supply worries.

Both main contracts rallied more than five per cent yesterday — with Brent back above US$120 (RM507) — and they continued to advance in early Asian business before falling back in the afternoon.

There was a little support from speculation about progress in the Iran nuclear deal, which could lead to the release of Tehran’s crude back onto world markets.

Will Sungchil Yun of VI Investment Corp told Bloomberg News: “There are worries around both supply as well as demand, which may keep prices rather volatile.

“But if fresh sanctions are slapped on Russia, we’re looking at another leg up.”

The surge in oil markets has fanned already sky-high inflation — it is at a 40-year high in the United States and a 30-year high in Britain — putting pressure on central banks to tighten monetary policy before prices run out of control.

In light of that, the Federal Reserve has turned increasingly hawkish.

After last week announcing a quarter-point lift, bank boss Jerome Powell on Monday suggested officials could lift interest rates as much as half a point on more than one occasion if price gains do not slow, even at the expense of the economic recovery.

The prospect of tighter financial constraints down the line is weighing on stocks.

“As traders digest higher (Treasury) yields and higher inflation signals via the oil price channel, stocks are lower,” said SPI Asset Management’s Stephen Innes.

“We may see volatility increase further regarding multiple 50 basis point hikes and even emergency rate hikes in the near term. Pressure points are building again with oil back on the boil, resulting in stagflation weighing on sentiment again.”

Teresa Kong at Matthews Asia added that steeper, quicker tightening by the Fed was necessary.

“The Fed needs to build up its ammunition,” she told Bloomberg Television. “Overall, global growth is going to be dampened and they need to be able to cut rates later on, should this have a greater-than-expected recessionary effect.”

After a negative lead from Wall Street, Asia fluctuated.

Tokyo, Sydney, Singapore, Manila, Bangkok and Jakarta edged up but Hong Kong, Shanghai, Seoul, Wellington, Taipei and Mumbai were all down.

London, Paris and Frankfurt rose at the open.

And the Moscow stock exchange resumed trading of some shares as it continued re-opening after a month-long suspension over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

Trading resumed for only around 30 of the largest companies that make up the rouble-denominated MOEX Russia Index, which saw early gains of more than 10 per cent.

Key figures around 0820 GMT

Brent North Sea crude: DOWN 0.2 per cent at US$121.37 per barrel

West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 0.2 per cent at US$114.75 per barrel

Tokyo — Nikkei 225: UP 0.3 per cent at 28,110.39 (close)

Hong Kong — Hang Seng Index: DOWN 0.9 per cent at 21,945.95 (close)

Shanghai — Composite: DOWN 0.6 per cent at 3,250.26 (close)

London: UP 0.1 per cent at 7,469.30

Euro/dollar: DOWN at US$1.0973 from US$1.1013 late yesterday

Pound/dollar: DOWN at US$1.3181 from US$1.3204 

Euro/pound: DOWN at 83.24 pence from 83.36 pence

Dollar/yen: UP at 121.55 yen from 121.12 yen

New York — DOW: DOWN 1.3 per cent at 34,358.50 (close) — AFP