Asian markets track losses on Wall St on Ukraine conflict fears

HONG KONG (AFP) – Asian markets fell and oil prices rallied Monday after the United States warned Russia could attack Ukraine within days as diplomatic efforts to prevent a war appeared to fail, while fears over inflation were also keeping traders on edge.

The losses matched a sell-off in New York and Europe on Friday as Western powers prepare for a conflict in eastern Europe after Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed calls by US counterpart Joe Biden and others to pull back.

Governments have told their citizens to leave Ukraine and US national security advisor Jake Sullivan warned last week that an invasion could begin “any day now” and would likely start with “a significant barrage of missiles and bomb attacks”.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz was preparing to visit Kyiv and Moscow to try to head off the crisis that officials said had reached a “critical” point.

The prospect of a conflict compounded to the gloomy mood on trading floors after data Thursday showed US inflation hit a forecast-busting 7.5 percent in January, ramping up pressure on the Federal Reserve to hike interest rates more than expected.

After sharp losses on Friday on Wall Street, the losses continued in Asia.

Tokyo and Seoul each shed more than two percent, while Hong Kong, Wellington and Taipei were more than one percent down. Shanghai and Singapore were also off, though Sydney and Manila edged up.

And Eli Lee, at Bank of Singapore, said the volatility that has characterised markets so far this year would likely continue.

“In the scenario of military action, we could see a spike in oil and gas prices, which would exacerbate the issue of inflation over the near term, and result in a market-wide risk-off move,” he wrote in a note.

“This would inject volatility into risk assets and cause a bid for safe havens such as the Japanese yen, the US dollar and gold.”

Meanwhile, oil prices jumped more than one percent, closing in on the $100 a barrel mark last seen in 2014, as investors grow increasingly worried about supplies in the event of a war — and adding to global inflationary pressures.

The crisis comes as crude was already tight owing to a pick-up in demand as economies reopen and people return to a more normal life.