Asian shares rise; oil spikes on Iran tension

Wednesday, 4 January 2012 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

SINGAPORE (Reuters): Asian stocks rose on Tuesday as the first trading day of 2012 in most markets brought renewed appetite for riskier assets, while U.S. crude jumped more than 1.5 percent to above $100 a barrel on escalating tensions between Iran and the West.

Stronger-than-expected manufacturing data from China boosted sentiment in Asia, but Europe’s drawn-out debt crisis continued to cloud the outlook and dragged on the euro, which struggled off a decade low against the yen.

The official Chinese purchasing managers’ index, which indicated a slight rise in factory activity in December, also lifted industrial metals such as copper on hopes of increased demand.

“China’s PMI number looks positive, better than most people had expected earlier on,” said Huang Yiping, chief economist for emerging Asia at Barclays Capital in Hong Kong. “But caution remains in the market. The euro zone economy is declining, it’s in negative growth.”

European stocks were seen starting mixed, with financial bookmakers calling Germany’s DAX and France’s CAC-40  down 0.3-0.4 percent after strong gains on Monday, while Britain’s FTSE 100, which was closed for a holiday on Monday, was expected to open up 1.8 percent.

SCI’s broadest index of Asia Pacific shares outside Japan rose 1.7 percent, with the energy sector leading gains on rising crude prices.

Stock indexes in Hong Kong and South Korea both rose more than 2 percent.

Japanese markets were closed for a holiday.

Asian shares had a poor year in 2011, with the MSCI Asia ex-Japan falling 18 percent, sharply underperforming Wall Street’s S&P 500, which finished the year virtually unchanged.

The euro bought around 99.65 yen, climbing off a trough of 98.71 plumbed in the previous session, its lowest since late 2000.

Against the dollar, the euro rose to $1.2975, still within striking distance of its 2011 low of $1.2856 hit last week.

“The concerns that investors have, have certainly not gone away at all,” said Callum Henderson, global head of FX research with Standard Chartered Bank in Singapore.

“The overall bias remains for more euro weakness ... given the growth and debt dynamics,” he said, adding that Standard Chartered’s forecast was for the euro to fall in the next three months and to stand at $1.20 at the end of the first quarter.

Oil rose after Iran said it had test-fired two long-range missiles, a display of military muscle flexing in the face of mounting Western pressure over its nuclear programme.

The move stoked fears of supply disruptions in the Strait of Hormuz, through which 40 percent of world oil is shipped, and pushed U.S. crude up 1.7 percent to around $100.50 a barrel.

Brent crude, one of the best performing widely traded assets in 2011 with a gain of around 13 percent, rose 1.2 percent to $108.65 a barrel.

“Over the next few months, it will be a balance of economic issues in Europe and the U.S. versus bullish geopolitical factors and the reality of economic growth in major Asian economies,” said Victor Shum, an oil consultant at Purvin & Gertz.

“Oil in 2012 will see a continuing strengthening trend as there are more upside risks.”

Copper, which fell more than 20 percent in 2011 on fears of a global economic slowdown exacerbated by Europe’s debt crisis, rose 1 percent, buoyed by the Chinese data, to around $7,675 a tonne.

Gold, which gained 10 percent in 2011 despite a sharp sell-off in the final months of the year as safe-haven investors switched to the dollar, also rose 1.2 percent to around $1,585 an ounce.