Asian shares down from 18-month top; oil steady after US strikes

A Chinese investor monitors stock prices in Bejiing on Dec 26, 2019.
A Chinese investor monitors stock prices in Bejiing on Dec 26, 2019.PHOTO: AP

SHANGHAI (REUTERS) - A broad gauge of Asian share markets fell on Monday (Dec 30) as investors consolidated gains after scaling 18-month highs last week, while oil was steady after the US carried out air strikes on an Iranian-backed Shi'ite Muslim militia group in Iraq and Syria.

Around 0145 GMT, MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was 0.09 per cent lower. The index had touched its highest level since June 19, 2018 on Friday, lifted by investor hopes that a US-China trade deal would be signed soon.

Chinese blue chips were 0.15 per cent lower, while Australian shares shed 0.56 per cent. Japan's Nikkei stock index slid 0.51 per cent.

Easing trade war worries and reduced uncertainty over the United Kingdom's plans to leave the European Union after British elections returned a strong Conservative majority have offered a lift to global equities this month, helping the broad MSCI Asia index rise more than 6 per cent and putting it on track for its strongest month since January.

Mr Kay Van-Petersen, global macro strategist at Saxo Capital Markets, said that limited liquidity near the year-end and easing of US-China trade and Brexit uncertainties has "just left us drifting up higher. So even if there is a pullback... I don't think it's going to be significant by any means."

Holiday cheer had lifted global equity markets late last week, helping the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average to eke out record closing highs on Friday.

The Dow ended 0.08 per cent higher at 28,645.26 and the S&P edged up just 0.11 points to 3,240.02. The Nasdaq Composite lost steam at the close, falling 0.17 per cent to 9,006.62.

Oil also gained on Friday, with prices posting their fourth consecutive weekly gain to steady around three-month highs. On Monday, global benchmark Brent crude was up 0.07 per cent to US$68.21 per barrel, while US West Texas Intermediate crude shaved off 0.05 per cent to US$61.69 per barrel.

The small moves in oil came despite news of US air strikes in Iraq and Syria against Kataib Hezbollah, an Iran-backed militia group.

US officials said Sunday that the attacks were successful, but warned that "additional actions" may be taken to defend US interests.

Mr Stephen Innes, strategist at AxiTrader, said that the rise of shale oil production helped to dampen the effect of geopolitical risks.


"Shale can really ramp up more volumes to accommodate any shortfall that could possibly be triggered by escalation in Syria," he said, adding that an upsurge in populism in Iraq posed a larger risk to markets.

Iraq's oil ministry said on Sunday that the halting of oil production at Iraq's southern Nassiriya oilfield by protestors would not effect the country's exports and production operations.

Gold also continued its run-up, after posting its best week in more than four months on Friday amid thin trading volumes, in a sign that some investors continue to see risks to global growth and US-China trade.

The precious metal was last trading up 0.25 per cent at US$1,514.19 per ounce on the spot market.

In the currency market, the dollar was 0.07 per cent lower against the yen at 109.33 and the euro was up 0.17 per cent on the day at US$1.1194.

The dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of six major rivals, was down by a hair to 96.891.

The yield on benchmark 10-year Treasury notes was at 1.8787 per cent in thin trade compared with its US close of 1.873 per cent on Friday, while the two-year yield edged down to 1.5812 per cent compared with a US close of 1.589 per cent.