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Asian Markets In Negative Territory As Middle East Tensions Rise

asiancommentary dec20 07jan20 lt

Asian stock markets are in negative territory on Wednesday and U.S. stock futures fell amid escalating tensions in the Middle East after Iran fired missiles at Iraqi airbases hosting U.S. troops.

The attack, in retaliation for the U.S. airstrike last week that killed top Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani, has raised fears of a wider conflict in the Middle East.

The Australian market is declining on renewed worries about U.S.-Iran tensions.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index is losing 49.30 points or 0.72 percent to 6,777.10, after falling to a low of 6,773.00 earlier. The broader All Ordinaries Index is lower by 48.30 points or 0.70 percent to 6,895.30. Australian stocks closed notably higher on Tuesday.

Among tech stocks, Appen and Wisetech Global are lower by more than 2 percent each, while Xero is declining more than 1 percent.

The major miners are also weak. Rio Tinto and BHP are declining more than 1 percent each, while Fortescue Metals is losing almost 1 percent.

In the banking space, ANZ Banking, Commonwealth Bank, National Australia Bank and Westpac Banking are down in a range of 0.7 percent to 1.0 percent.

Meanwhile, gold miners are notably higher after safe-haven gold prices rose for a tenth straight session overnight. Evolution Mining is higher by more than 3 percent and Newcrest Mining is rising more than 2 percent.

Oil stocks are also higher after crude oil prices rose more than 4 percent in Asian trading Wednesday on fresh tensions in the Middle East. Santos and Oil Search are rising more than 2 percent each, while Woodside Petroleum is adding more than 1 percent.

Sigma Healthcare's shares are losing almost 2 percent following the resignation of chief financial officer Iona MacPherson by mutual agreement amid the company's ongoing restructuring program. Former Sigma CFO Jeff Sells will assume the CFO role on an acting basis in conjunction with his current duties as the executive general manager of retail pharmacy.

In economic news, the latest survey from the Australian Industry Group or AIG revealed that the construction sector in Australia continued to contract in December, and at a faster rate, with a six-and-a-half-year low PMI score of 38.9. That's down from 40 in November and it moves further beneath the boom-or-bust line of 50 that separates expansion from contraction.

Australia will also release November numbers for building approvals today.

In the currency market, the Australian dollar is lower against the U.S. dollar on Wednesday. The local currency was quoted at $0.6862, compared to $0.6917 on Tuesday.

The Japanese market is sharply lower and the safe-haven yen strengthened on worries about escalating tensions in the Middle East.

The benchmark Nikkei 225 Index is losing 552.37 points or 2.34 percent to 23,023.35, after falling to a low of 22,951.18 earlier. The Japanese market closed higher on Tuesday, rebounding from the steep losses in the previous session.

Market heavyweight SoftBank Group Corp. is lower by more than 1 percent and Fast Retailing is declining more than 2 percent.

Among tech stocks, Advantest and Tokyo Electron are losing more than 2 percent each.

The major exporters are also lower on a stronger yen. Panasonic and Mitsubishi Electric are losing more than 2 percent each, Sony is declining more than 1 percent and Canon is lower by more than 1 percent.

Among auto stocks, Honda Motor is losing almost 3 percent and Toyota Motor is down more than 2 percent.

Bucking the trend, Japan Petroleum is higher by more than 3 percent and Inpex is rising almost 2 percent after crude oil prices gained more than 3 percent in Asian trading amid escalating tensions in the Middle East.

Among the other major decliners, Tosoh Corp. and Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha are falling almost 5 percent each. Olympus Corp., Tokyu Fudosan, Tokuyama Corp. and Credit Saison are all lower by more than 4 percent each.

On the economic front, Japan will see December results for its consumer confidence index today.

In the currency market, the U.S. dollar is trading in the upper 107 yen-range on Wednesday.

Elsewhere in Asia, New Zealand is declining more than 1 percent, while South Korea and Malaysia are lower by almost 1 percent each. Shanghai, Singapore, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Taiwan are also lower.

On Wall Street, stocks closed modestly lower on Tuesday in choppy trading amid uncertainty about the impact of rising tensions between the U.S. and Iran following the U.S. airstrike that killed top Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani. While traders generally seem optimistic that the war of words between Washington and Tehran will not escalate into a full-fledged military conflict, the uncertainty kept buying interest in check.

The Dow slid 119.70 points or 0.4 percent to 28,583.68, the Nasdaq edged down 2.88 points or less than a tenth of a percent to 9,068.58 and the S&P 500 fell 9.10 points or 0.3 percent to 3,237.18.

The major European markets finished mixed on Tuesday. While the German DAX Index advanced by 0.8 percent, the French CAC 40 Index and the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index both closed just below the unchanged line.

Crude oil futures ended lower on Tuesday, snapping a three-session winning streak, after concerns about a U.S.-Iran standoff faded a bit as there was no further escalation in tensions. WTI crude for February delivery slid $0.57 or about 0.9 percent to $62.70 a barrel.

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