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Monday, March 27, 2023

Asian markets join global rally, oil rebounds from plunge

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Petrol prices of more than $7.00 per gallon are posted at a downtown Los Angeles gas station on Wednesday. (AFP photo)

Asian equities rallied Thursday following a strong bounce on Wall Street and a breathtaking surge in Europe sparked by a plunge in oil prices and bargain-buying following a Ukraine-fuelled rout.

A glimmer of hope for peace talks provided some much-needed support to asset markets, which have been in the grip of extreme volatility in the two weeks since Russia invaded its neighbour, sparking a wave of sanctions against Moscow.

However, commentators urged caution in a time of massive uncertainty, with some warning that further losses for stocks were likely and crude will no doubt remain elevated for some time.

But for now, investors are enjoying a rare moment of calm, lapping up cheaper equities after a blockbuster day for their US and European colleagues.

The Dow jumped two%, the S&P 500 even more and the tech-heavy Nasdaq an impressive 3.6%.

Frankfurt rocketed nearly 8% and Paris more than 7%, with analysts also crediting the gains to talk of a plan to issue more joint debt to fast-track green energy and renewables, defence and subsidies for spiking energy costs.

But a key driver of the advance was a massive drop in oil prices, which provided some relief to traders worried about already high inflation being sent even higher.

Brent at one point dropped to as low as $105.60, having hit a peak of $139 two days before, on hopes that the huge amounts of Russian oil taken out of the market by sanctions could be largely replaced by sourcing from elsewhere.

The United Arab Emirates said Wednesday it would urge fellow states in the OPEC oil producers’ cartel to boost output, while US talks with massive producer Venezuela appeared to be making progress.

At the same time Iraq has said it could lift output and nuclear talks with Iran were also showing signs of bearing fruit.

Both main contracts rose Thursday but with the war in Ukraine still raging and supplies still tight, expectations are for the commodity to maintain its strength.

Meanwhile, the optimists were given a lift after a top foreign policy aide to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky said the country was prepared to talk about Moscow’s demand for it to remain neutral in return for security guarantees.

“Surely, we are ready for a diplomatic solution,” deputy chief of staff Ihor Zhovkva told Bloomberg Television.

“Our first and foremost pre-condition for having such kind of negotiations is immediate cease-fire and withdrawal of Russian troops.”

That came as Russia’s foreign ministry said it would be better if its goals in Ukraine were achieved through talks.

Investors will be keeping a close eye on a meeting between the countries’ foreign ministers in Turkey on Thursday, marking the first high-level contact between Kyiv and Moscow since the invasion.

“If you see a resolution of the war in Ukraine — and we are getting some reports that Russia and Ukraine might be moving closer to the negotiation stage — that could help shift sentiment,” said Nadia Lovell of UBS Global Wealth Management.

But she said she saw further choppiness ahead.

On equity markets, Tokyo bolted almost 4% higher — its best one-day gain in 21 months — while Seoul, Mumbai and Taipei gained more than 2%. Shanghai, Sydney, Singapore, Manila and Wellington were up more than 1% while Hong Kong, Jakarta and Bangkok were also in positive territory.

However, European markets slipped in the first few minutes of trade.

Gold, a safe-haven asset in times of turmoil, fell back below $2,000, having almost hit a record on Wednesday, and other commodities that have hit all-time highs — including wheat and nickel — also retreated.

However, equity markets remain well down on the year and Stephen Innes at SPI Asset Management said: “It has been a harrowing week for investors; keep in mind these are financial-crises-type markets where everybody is trading headlines and chasing the same momentum intraday.

“But this should prove to be a reminder that systematic flow can move markets both ways, especially when the active investor base sits on the sidelines.”

Investors will be closely watching US inflation data later in the day as it could play a part in the Federal Reserve’s thinking ahead of an expected interest rate hike this month.

That comes as the European Central Bank holds its own policy meeting, with some commentators suggesting it could step back from tightening measures as it looks to support the economy, despite soaring prices in the eurozone.

“If the ECB’s position wasn’t difficult enough already, recent events in Ukraine will mean that inflation, far from being transitory is not only likely to remain high but is also set to go even higher over the course of the next few months,” said CMC Markets analyst Michael Hewson.


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