Asia Markets: Asian markets mixed as global tensions rise on apparent oil-tanker attacks

Asian markets were mixed in early trading Friday as oil prices surged following apparent attacks on two tankers near the Strait of Hormuz.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Iran, through Iran rejected those claims, as tensions grew in the Persian Gulf. Late Thursday, the U.S. said it had evidence that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard removed an unexploded mine from a tanker, suggesting Iran tried to hide evidence of its involvement.

Benchmark U.S. crude

CLN19, +0.36%

  dipped 29 cents to $51.99. It rose 2.2% to settle at $52.28 a barrel Thursday. Brent crude oil

BRNQ19, +0.65%

 , the international standard, fell 8 cents to $61.23 a barrel, after rising 2.2% on Thursday.

Geopolitical tensions remained high elsewhere, as Hong Kong remained on edge in the aftermath of violent clashes between police and protesters earlier this week. Protests against a proposed extradition law continued, though were noticeably more subdued, while the prospect of further protests over the weekend loomed large. Meanwhile, there were fresh threats from the U.S. that President Donald Trump may raise tariffs against China if President Xi Jinping doesn’t meet with him at the G-20 summit in Japan later this month. On Thursday, a group of American companies, including Walmart Inc.

WMT, -0.16%

  and Target Corp.

TGT, +0.05%

 , sent a letter to Trump urging him make a trade deal and end the tariff war.

Japan’s Nikkei

NIK, +0.32%

  rose 0.2% while South Korea’s Kospi

180721, -0.30%

  retreated 0.3%. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index

HSI, -0.52%

  fell 0.4% and the Shanghai Composite

SHCOMP, -0.26%

 was about flat. Benchmark indexes in Taiwan

Y9999, -0.28%

 and Singapore

STI, +0.04%

  were about flat, while stocks rose in Indonesia

JAKIDX, -0.36%

 . Australia’s S&P/ASX 200

XJO, +0.26%

  rose slightly.

Among individual stocks, Sony

6758, +2.59%

  rose in Tokyo trading, along with Inpex

1605, +1.47%

  and Fast Retailing

9983, +1.51%

  . In Hong Kong, PetroChina

857, +1.89%

  gained while AAC

2018, -0.94%

  and Wharf Real Estate

1997, -0.85%

  fell. LG Electronics

066570, -1.22%

  slid in South Korea, and Foxconn

2354, +0.32%

 advanced in Taiwan. Oil Search

OSH, +1.88%

  and Rio Tinto

RIO, +3.39%

  gained in Australia.

Gains in energy and internet companies helped drive stocks broadly higher on Wall Street overnight, snapping a two-day losing streak for the market in an otherwise choppy week of trading.

Investors have been searching for direction as they cautiously await any new developments on the global trade war between the U.S. and China. Any continued escalations could crimp global economic growth and halt what is poised to be the longest economic expansion in U.S. history.

The market is also looking ahead to next week’s meeting of policyholders of the U.S. Federal Reserve. Last week, Fed Chair Jerome Powell set off a market rally after he signaled that the central bank is willing to cut interest rates to help stabilize the economy if the trade war between Washington and Beijing starts to crimp growth.

The S&P 500 index

SPX, +0.41%

  rose 11.80 points, or 0.4%, to 2,891.64. The benchmark index has been seesawing this week, opening strong on Monday, and then falling for two straight days before reversing course again on Thursday. The uneven week follows the index’s best week of 2019.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average

DJIA, +0.39%

  gained 101.94 points, or 0.4%, to 26,106.77. The Nasdaq composite

COMP, +0.57%

  added 44.41 points, or 0.6%, to 7,837.13.

The suspected attacks in the Strait of Hormuz come amid heightened tensions between the United States and Iran. One third of all oil traded by sea, which amounts to 20% of oil traded worldwide, passes through the strait. The U.S. blamed Iran in what it called a campaign of “escalating tensions” in a region crucial to global energy supplies.

Economists Nicholas Mapa and Prakash Sakpal said in their report for ING that the market tone for the day was “wait and watch.”

“Setting the mixed tone for markets today, escalation of geopolitical tensions in the Gulf region counters the positive investor sentiment from rising expectations of the U.S. Fed easing,” the report said.

The dollar

USDJPY, -0.04%

  fell to 108.32 Japanese yen from 108.44 yen on Thursday. The euro weakened to $1.1278 from $1.1294.

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