Oil prices surge, markets mixed after US kills Iran general

Joe McDonald

BEIJING (AP) — Asian stocks were mixed yesterday and oil prices surged after an Iranian general was killed by United States (US) forces in Iraq.

Benchmarks in Shanghai and Hong Kong declined. Australia and some Southeast Asian markets advanced. Japanese markets were closed. News that General Qassem Soleimani, head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, was killed in an air attack at the Baghdad international airport prompted expectations of Iranian retaliation against US and Israeli targets. “A big fat dollop of geopolitical uncertainty has landed on investors desks,” said Jeffrey Halley of Oanda in a report.

Overnight, Wall Street rose to new records, boosted by technology stocks. Investors were encouraged by expectations of stronger global economic growth in 2020 and the planned signing of an interim US-Chinese trade agreement.

The Shanghai Composite Index shed 0.3 per cent to 3,076.73 and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng lost 0.2 per cent to 28,482.88. Taiwan and Singapore also declined.

Seoul’s Kospi was off less than 0.1 per cent at 2,173.20 and Sydney’s S&P-ASX 200 gained 0.7 per cent to 6,739.80. India’s Sensex opened down 0.3 per cent at 41,505.83.

Currency traders watch monitors at the foreign exchange dealing room of the KEB Hana Bank headquarters in Seoul, South Korea yesterday. PHOTO: AP

Markets in Malaysia and Indonesia, both oil producers, gained.

There was no immediate indication how Iran would respond to Soleimani’s death, but Tehran has seized oil tankers and shot down a US military drone.

Washington blames Iran for attacks on tankers and a September assault on Saudi Arabia’s oil industry that temporarily cut its production by half. Brent crude, used to price international oils, was up USD2.14 at USD68.39 per barrel in London after temporarily jumping nearly USD3. The contract gained 25 cents on Thursday to close at USD66.25.

Benchmark US crude was up USD1.87 at USD63.05 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

It lost 12 cents the previous day to close at USD61.18.

On Wall Street, the benchmark S&P 500 index climbed 0.8 per cent to 3,257.85. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 1.2 per cent to 28,868.80. The Nasdaq composite gained 1.3 per cent to 9,092.19.

Walt Disney, Boeing, Apple and other big companies rose.

Technology sector stocks accounted for a good part of the upward move.

Smaller-company stocks lagged the broader market’s gains.

The S&P 500 and Nasdaq closed out the year on Tuesday with their best annual performance since 2013. Investors are waiting for Washington and Beijing to formalise a trade deal that has helped ease market jitters over the 18-month-old dispute between the world’s two biggest economies. Washington and Beijing announced a ‘Phase 1’ pact that calls for the US to reduce tariffs and China to buy larger quantities of US farm products.

This week, US President Donald Trump tweeted that he will sign the initial trade deal with China at the White House this month.

In currency markets, the dollar declined to 108.09 yen from Thursday’s 108.56 yen. The euro edged down to USD1.1168 from USD1.1171.