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Oil, gold surge as violence in Gaza continues

business Updated: Dec 29, 2008 16:16 IST
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Oil and gold prices surged on Monday following a flare up violence in the Middle East, while an ensuing rally in resources-related stocks helped Asian shares gain as what will certainly remain their worst year on record heads to a close.

The South Korean won struck a two-month peak as a slow recovery in tolerance for risk boosted some Asian currencies, though the sterling hit a record low against the euro and inched closer to parity due to the different outlook for interest rates.

European shares opened higher boosted by energy and mining shares on the back of higher commodity prices.

Still, expectations for a tough 2009 are being partially reflected by the rally in safe-haven public debt as central banks slash interest rates. Yields for longer dated Japanese government bonds fell on Monday to their lowest since 2003.

Many portfolio managers remain cautious as they wait for more clarity on just how severe the blow to companies is going to be, and whether the prospect of massive government spending combined with deep rate cuts will revive growth in 2009.

"Rather than seeing a rebound on value, we want to see companies that can deliver growth in an environment that we have got," said Steven Robinson, a fund manager with Alleron Investment Management in Sydney.

Investors may have to contend with yet one more risk factor, this time in the Middle East, in a year that has featured the worst financial crisis in decades, global recession, and the failure of big global lenders such as Lehman Brothers.

Israeli warplanes pounded the Hamas ruled Gaza Strip for a third consecutive day on Monday as the Jewish state prepared to launch a possible invasion amid the intensifying clashes between the two sides.

Oil prices rose as much as $2 to nearly $40 a barrel during Asian trade on Monday as investors worried about crude supplies.

Oil markets are ending a manic year in which crude surged to a record at close to $150 a barrel in July before crashing down amid fears about a sharp slowdown in the global economy.

Gold prices extended last week's rally to gain more than 2 percent to an intraday high of $889.55 an ounce, its highest since early October. Prices for bullion later fell to $883.05.

SHARES ADVANCE

Asian shares advanced, led in part by resource related stocks such as Chinese offshore oil producer CNOOC and Japanese oil and gas developer Inpex Holdings.

The MSCI index of Asia Pacific stocks outside Japan rose about 2 percent, recovering from earlier losses of as much as 0.4 percent.

The index is still headed for a loss of more than 50 percent for the year, making it by far the biggest yearly slide in its 20 year history.

In Japan, the Nikkei average ended up 0.1 percent, helped as well by news that three non life insurers including Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Group Holdings were in talks to merge.

Elsewhere, shares in Singapore and India were the the top performers with gains of more than 3 and 2 percent, respectively.

Hong Kong and Australian shares rose a little over 1 percent, while South Korea ended flat. The main indexes in Shanghai and Taipei posted modest losses.

Some of the willingness to add risk was also reflected in Asia's emerging currencies. The South Korean won surged 2.9 per cent to 1,261.9/8.1 against the dollar with traders citing government selling of the US currency.

Among major currencies, sterling fell as low as 96.65 pence to mark a record low against the euro, but later trimmed some losses to stand at 96.39 pence, down 0.2 percent from late US trading on Friday.

A bleak outlook for the UK economy and expectations that euro zone interest rates will remain above British rates in coming months have recently hit the sterling.

The dollar fell broadly, especially against the Swiss franc, which rose on safe haven buying amid the violence in Gaza.

The dollar declined 0.8 percent against the Swiss franc to 1.0590 francs and dipped 0.3 per cent against the Japanese currency to 90.52 yen in Asian trade.

Government bonds have also remained well bid in a sign that investors are approaching 2009 with a good degree of caution.

Both the 20 year and the 30 year Japanese government bond yields fell to their lowest since 2003, as the yield curve flattens on the deteriorating prospects for the world's second largest economy and near zero interest rates.

On Monday, the 30 year yield dropped 4 basis points to 1.755 per cent, the lowest since August 2003. The 20 year yield slipped 4 basis points to 1.715 per cent, the lowest since October 2003.