Equities drop, oil rallies on fears of broader Middle East war

Equities drop, oil rallies on fears of broader Middle East war

Jordan's King Abdullah II warned the Middle East was 'at the brink of falling into the abyss'
Jordan's King Abdullah II warned the Middle East was 'at the brink of falling into the abyss'. Photo: Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP
Source: AFP

Asian equities retreated and oil prices rallied Wednesday on fears that the Israel-Hamas conflict could spill over into a regional war after a strike on a Gaza hospital dealt a blow to President Joe Biden's diplomatic drive.

Markets had enjoyed a healthy run Tuesday on optimism that while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was preparing for a ground offensive in the territory, the crisis could be contained.

The Hamas-run Palestinian territory's health ministry blamed Israel for the hospital blast, but Tel Aviv said it was caused by a rocket misfired by Hamas ally Islamic Jihad.

Biden had planned to visit Israel and Jordan on Wednesday to talk to Netanyahu as well as Jordanian King Abdullah II, Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in hopes of finding a way to de-escalate.

But news that at least 200 had been killed in the hospital blast saw the Arab leaders cancel their summit in Amman and fanned concerns of a wider conflagration, with Iran warning this week that a wider war was becoming "inevitable".

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There was an increase in fighting between Israeli troops and Tehran-backed Hezbollah on the Lebanon border.

"The whole region is at the brink of falling into the abyss that this new cycle of death and destruction is pushing us towards," King Abdullah II said following talks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin on Tuesday.

"The threat of this war expanding is real."

Asian markets mostly fell, with Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore, Wellington, Taipei and Manila all down.

Sydney, Seoul and Jakarta edged up.

Crude jumped more than two percent on worries about supplies from the oil-rich region in the event of a wider war, with some observers even warning the commodity could head towards $150 a barrel.

China growth

Forecast-busting economic growth data out of China provided a shaft of light for traders.

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The 4.9 percent third-quarter expansion was slower than the previous three months but much better than analyst estimates, lifting hopes that the world's number-two economy was seeing some stabilisation after a torrid year.

The figures were helped by a healthy jump in retail sales, suggesting the country's consumers are regaining a little more confidence, though officials continue to face calls for more stimulus to kickstart the economy.

However, a report showing a better-than-expected rise in US retail sales revived talk of another interest rate hike by the Federal Reserve, even after a string of decision-makers lined up in recent weeks to suggest monetary policy was likely tight enough to bring inflation down.

"Good news about the economy is once again bad news, since it will keep policymakers on the fence on delivering more tightening," said Edward Moya at OANDA.

"It seems the US economy isn't ready to head into a recession just yet."

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And SPI Asset Management's Stephen Innes added: "Simply put, the US consumer appears unbowed and utterly unaffected by rising interest rates.

"Contrary to expectations that the US consumer is weakening, recent revisions suggest Americans may still have significant savings.

"The steady stream of strong macro data reinforces the view that economic growth in the US remains robust enough to avoid a recession -- a view that is admittedly increasingly part of a growing consensus."

Key figures around 0230 GMT

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.2 percent at 31,974.29 (break)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng Index: DOWN 0.2 percent at 17,745.11

Shanghai - Composite: DOWN 0.5 percent at 3,067.95

West Texas Intermediate: UP 2.6 at $86.94 per barrel

Brent North Sea crude: UP 2.3 percent at $91.98 per barrel

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.0574 from $1.0579 on Tuesday

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2176 from $1.2182

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 149.70 yen from 149.82 yen

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China saw moderate third-quarter growth as hurdles persist: survey

Euro/pound: UP at 86.86 pence from 86.81 pence

New York - Dow: FLAT at 33,997.65 points (close)

London - FTSE 100: UP 0.6 percent at 7,675.21 (close)

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Source: AFP

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