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Asian shares slip, oil above $110 as Russia sanctions bite

By Andrew Galbraith

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Asian stocks came under renewed pressure on Wednesday and the price of oil surged past $110 per barrel as investors fretted about the impact of aggressive sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

As global sanctions against Moscow tighten, the United States banned Russian flights using American airspace, following similar moves by the European Union and Canada.

U.S. President Joe Biden announced the ban during his State of the Union speech on Tuesday, in which he also said Russian President Vladimir Putin would “pay a continuing high price over the long run” for the invasion of Ukraine.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was down 0.46% with China’s blue-chip CSI300 index 1.05% lower.

Japan’s Nikkei fell 1.81%.

In Australia, the benchmark ASX 200 index was 0.2% higher despite the risk-off mood elsewhere as rising commodity prices lifted miners’ shares.

“The Russia-Ukraine conflict will probably continue to dominate markets for the foreseeable future. The announcement yesterday that Russia will not pay coupons to foreign holders on its government debt should push investors further into safe-havens,” ING analysts said in a note.

“Support for starting the EU membership process for Ukraine shows the unity of support for Ukraine from Western Europe but is unlikely to help calm tensions.”

On Tuesday, the S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite indexes closed about 1.6% lower, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped nearly 1.8%.

Global sanctions against Russia have prompted a string of major companies to announce suspensions to or exits from their businesses in the country.

Exxon Mobil (NYSE:XOM) said on Tuesday that it will exit Russia operations, including oil production fields, following similar decisions by British oil giants BP (NYSE:BP) PLC and Shell (LON:RDSa), and Norway’s Equinor ASA (NYSE:EQNR).

Exxon’s announcement comes as the price of oil continues to climb. On Wednesday morning, global benchmark Brent crude blew past $110 per barrel, rising more than 5.8% to $111.09, its highest since early July 2014.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude also jumped nearly 6% to $109.29, its highest since September 2013.

The rise came despite a global agreement to release 60 million barrels of crude reserves to try to rein in price increases.

“We think that there is some room still for oil prices to continue to climb,” said Carlos Casanova, senior Asia economist at UBP in Hong Kong. “So much of it depends upon political factors and making sure that some of the supply coming out of Russia is offset with (not just) more oil from U.S. shale, but also Iran.”

In the currency market, the dollar was last quoted up 3.3% against the rouble at 108.51 after touching a record high of 117 a day earlier.

The dollar was also stronger against the yen, up 0.1% at 115.00, while the euro was flat $1.1126. Against a basket of currencies of other major trading partners, the dollar was up at 97.371.

The greenback’s rise came as U.S. Treasury yield rebounded after dropping to eight-week lows on Tuesday. A shifting global growth outlook has seen investors trim bets that the Federal Reserve will aggressively hike interest rates in coming months.

The benchmark U.S. 10-year yield rose to 1.7541% from 1.711% late on Tuesday and the policy-sensitive 2-year yield jumped to 1.3725% from 1.305%.

Fed funds futures markets now price only a 5% chance of a 50 basis point hike at the Fed’s March meeting, though a smaller 25 basis point hike is seen as a virtual certainty. [FEDWATCH]

In his speech on Tuesday, Biden called for companies to make more cars and semiconductors in the United States so Americans would be less reliant on imports, as a way to battle inflation.

Gold, which touched an 18-month high last week and had surged nearly 2% on Tuesday over the worsening Ukraine crisis, gave back 0.3% to $1,937.58 per ounce as the dollar firmed.

Bitcoin, which had soared nearly 15.5% Tuesday on strengthening conflict currency credentials, fell 0.39% to $44,272.46.

Source: Reuters

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