Asian stocks mixed, oil prices up after Iran general killed

A currency trader watches monitors at the foreign exchange dealing room of the KEB

Asian stocks were mixed Friday and oil prices surged after an Iranian general was killed by U.S. forces in Iraq.

Benchmarks in Shanghai and Hong Kong declined. Australia and some Southeast Asian markets advanced. Japanese markets were closed.

News that Gen. Qassem Soleimani, head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, was killed in an air attack at the Baghdad international airport prompted expectations of Iranian retaliation against U.S. and Israeli targets.

“A big fat dollop of geopolitical uncertainty has landed on investors desks,” said Jeffrey Halley of Oanda in a report.

Overnight, Wall Street rose to new records, boosted by technology stocks.

Investors were encouraged by expectations of stronger global economic growth in 2020 and the planned signing of an interim U.S.-Chinese trade agreement.

The Shanghai Composite Index shed 0.1% to 3,081.57 and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng lost 0.2% to 28,484.91. Taiwan and Singapore also declined.

Seoul’s Kospi was unchanged at 2,174.75 and Sydney’s S&P-ASX 200 gained 0.7% to 6,735.60.

Singapore was down while markets in Malaysia and Indonesia, both oil producers, gained.

There was no immediate indication how Iran would respond to Soleimani’s death but Tehran has seized oil tankers and shot down a U.S. military drone.

Washington blames Iran for attacks on tankers and a September assault on Saudi Arabia’s oil industry that temporarily cut its production by half.

Brent crude, used to price international oils, was up $1.93 at $68.18 per barrel in London after temporarily jumping nearly $3. The contract gained 25 cents on Thursday to close at $66.25.

Benchmark U.S. crude was up $1.69 at $62.87 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It lost 12 cents the previous day to close at $61.18.

On Wall Street, the benchmark S&P 500 index climbed 0.8% to 3,257.85. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 1.2% to 28,868.80. The Nasdaq composite gained 1.3% to 9,092.19.

Walt Disney, Boeing, Apple and other big companies rose. Technology sector stocks accounted for a good part of the upward move. Smaller-company stocks lagged the broader market’s gains.

The S&P 500 and Nasdaq closed out the year Tuesday with their best annual performance since 2013.

Investors are waiting for Washington and Beijing to formalize a trade deal that has helped ease market jitters over the 18-month-old dispute between the world’s two biggest economies.

Washington and Beijing announced a “Phase 1” pact that calls for the U.S. to reduce tariffs and China to buy larger quantities of U.S. farm products.

This week, President Donald Trump tweeted that he will sign the initial trade deal with China at the White House this month.

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