Asian Shares under Pressure as Ukraine Tensions Persist - The New Indian Express

Asian Shares under Pressure as Ukraine Tensions Persist

Published: 04th March 2014 11:47 AM

Last Updated: 04th March 2014 11:47 AM

* Fear of escalating unrest in Ukraine keeps risk assets at bay

* Positive U.S. data overwhelmed by uncertainty in Ukraine

* Dollar index pulls away from last week's 2-month lows

* U.S. crude futures near 5-month high on military concerns

Asian shares were on the defensive on Tuesday as tensions over Ukraine showed no sign of abating, with Russia tightening its grip on Crimea while the West sought measures to deter Moscow.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan sagged about 0.1 percent.

The Nikkei was up 0.2 percent in early afternoon trading, after initially falling as much as 0.7 percent, on cautious bargain-hunting by investors hopeful that conflict will be avoided.

"Investors seem to think that Russia will take Crimea and the West will impose sanctions on Moscow, but there will likely be no military clash," said Kyoya Okazawa, the head of global equity and commodity derivatives at BNP Paribas in Tokyo.

Still, many investors flocked to safe assets for fear of further escalation in tensions. Gold stood near a four-month high while the yield on U.S. Treasuries dropped to a one-month low, reflecting higher prices for the bonds.

Russia's Black Sea fleet denied reports it had given Ukrainian forces in Crimea an ultimatum to surrender by early on Tuesday or face attack, Interfax news agency said. But Ukraine's acting president said Russia's military presence in Crimea was growing.

President Barack Obama said on Monday that Russia violated international law with its military intervention in Ukraine and warned that the U.S. government would look at a series of economic and diplomatic sanctions to isolate Moscow.

The European Union also threatened unspecified "targeted measures" unless Russia returns its forces to their bases and opens talks with Ukraine's new government.

Fear of a military confrontation pummelled Russian financial markets, with the rouble-denominated MICEX stock index diving 10.8 percent.

The rouble fell two percent against the dollar to a record low of 36.50 to the dollar even as the Russian central bank raised interest rates to stem capital flight and to defend the currency.

"The latest situation could look like a new Cold War. Lack of clear, strong leadership in the world could lead to a more fragmented world, destabilising the global economy. More funds will flow to safe assets for the time being,"said Daisuke Uno, chief strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui Bank.

On Wall Street, the S&P 500 index lost 0.7 percent, to 1,845.73 as concerns over Ukraine overwhelmed generally upbeat economic data on the U.S. economy.

Financial data firm Markit's gauge of U.S. factory activity rose in February to its highest level since May 2010.

Separately, the Institute for Supply Management said its index of U.S. factory activity rose to 53.2 in February, topping expectations. Personal spending in January grew despite the harsh winter weather.

The data helped to underpin the dollar, with the dollar index rebounding from a two-month low hit on Friday to stand at 80.132, up about 0.1 percent on the day, and moving away from Friday's low of 79.688. The euro stood at $1.3727 , down slightly on the day and off Friday's peak of $1.38255.

Investors' risk averse mood helped the yen, which stood near a one-month high against the U.S. dollar. The yen fetched 101.61 yen to the dollar, not far from the month high of 101.20 hit on Monday.

The Australian dollar erased initial gains after the Reserve Bank of Australia kept rates steady at a record low, as widely expected. The Aussie eased about 0.2 percent to $0.8926, not far from a one-month low of $0.8891 touched on Monday. It briefly rose to a session high of $0.8970.

Gold, another traditional safe-haven asset, was steady at $1,349.96 per ounce, just below Monday's four-month high of $1,354.80, bolstered by the risk-averse mood.

Gains in U.S. Treasuries sent the benchmark 10-year yield to a one-month low of 2.592 percent as prices rose. The yield was last at 2.611 percent in Asia, compared with its U.S. close of 2.608 percent.

Fear of possible armed conflict boosted oil prices. U.S. crude futures, which have been rising for weeks due to cold winter in many parts of the United States, stood near a five-month high hit on Monday. They were last at $104.68 per barrel, down about 0.2 percent on the day but still not far from Monday's high of $105.22.

Three-month copper on the London Metal Exchange was nearly flat on the day at $6,968.75 a tonne, after it skidded to a three-month low of $6,944 a tonne in the previous session.

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