Asia stocks firm, crude hits 5-month high on Iran sanctions report

April 22, 2019

By Shinichi Saoshiro

TOKYO (Reuters) – Asian stocks were steady on Monday as investors awaited the return of major financial markets from the Good Friday holiday, while oil prices spiked on a report the U.S. is likely to ask all importers of Iranian oil to end their purchases or face sanctions.

Brent futures rallied to a five-month high, after the Washington Post said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will announce “that as of May 2, the State Department will no longer grant sanctions waivers to any country that is currently importing Iranian crude or condensate.”

Equities markets were subdued, with MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan trading little changed.

The index was within reach of a nine-month peak scaled on Thursday after Chinese economic data beat expectations and eased concerns about the health of the world economy.

The advance, however, slowed as many markets in Asia, Europe and North America shut down for Good Friday.

“Equities will be looking at further corporate earnings for immediate incentives. While strong economic indicators, particularly from China, have helped sentiment, they have not formed a strong trend,” said Soichiro Monji, senior strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui DS Asset Management in Tokyo.

“The U.S.-China trade talks will have to end in one way or another for a trend to form.”

South Korea’s KOSPI was almost flat and Japan’s Nikkei shed 0.2 percent.

In currencies, the dollar index against a basket of six major currencies was a shade lower at 97.369.

The index was still within touching distance of a 1-1/2-month peak reached on Thursday after steady U.S. retail sales data.

The euro was little changed at $1.1244, having taken a hit late last week after purchasing managers’ index (PMI) releases showed weak manufacturing activity in Europe.

The dollar was steady at 111.91 yen.

The Australian dollar, sensitive to shifts in risk sentiment, inched down 0.1 percent to $0.7147.

The Canadian dollar, on the other hand, added 0.1 percent to C$1.3381 thanks to a bounce in crude oil prices.

Brent crude rose 0.83 percent to $72.57 per barrel after touching $72.58, highest since Nov. 8, 2018, underpinned by the Washington Post report.

U.S. crude futures climbed 0.84 percent to $64.54 per barrel.

The U.S. reimposed sanctions in November on exports of Iranian oil after President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled out of a 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and six world powers. Washington is pressuring Iran to curtail its nuclear program and stop backing militant proxies across the Middle East.

Crude extended gains from last week, when a drop in crude exports from OPEC’s de facto leader, Saudi Arabia, and a draw in U.S. drilling rigs and oil inventories supported prices.

(Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

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