Global stock markets were pressured on Tuesday as rising tensions in the Middle East and political uncertainty in Europe kept investors on edge, underpinning safe assets such as the yen, gold and Treasuries. The exception was oil, which continued its steady climb on supply concerns in the wake of the U.S. missile strikes on a Syrian air base last week, and a shutdown at a Libyan oilfield. MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was flat, while Tokyo’s Nikkei slipped 0.55 percent, dragged lower by a stronger yen. Australian stocks retreated almost 0.1 percent, after hitting their highest level since April 2015 on Monday. Overnight, Wall Street ended a choppy session little changed, weighed down by nervousness about quarterly corporate earnings later this week. The depressed sentiment pulled 10-year U.S. Treasury yields down to 2.3535 percent early on Tuesday from Monday’s 2.3610 percent close.
The upcoming French presidential election and the heightened tensions in the Middle East following the U.S. strikes on Syria have left investors nervous even as a raft of global data over recent months have pointed to a steadily improving global economy. British Prime Minister Theresa May spoke on Monday to U.S. President Donald Trump and agreed that “a window of opportunity” exists to persuade Russia to break ties with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, May’s office said. In France, polls for many weeks have been showing centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen on track to top the first round of voting on April 23 and go through to a May 7 runoff. But recent polls have pointed to a tighter race, with support for far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon surging recently.
“After Britain’s Brexit referendum and the U.S. presidential election surprised markets in 2016, could this event do the same?,” Mark Burgess, global head of equities at Columbia Threadneedle in London, wrote in a note. “As a Le Pen presidency is perceived to increase the likelihood of France’s withdrawal from the EU, the uncertainty is likely to continue about what this could mean for the euro, along with a potential wider hit to global markets.” The euro was little changed at $1.0598. The U.S. dollar fell 0.2 percent to 110.68 yen, extending losses from Monday.
The dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of major trade-weighted peers, was fractionally lower at 100.96, following Monday’s 0.16 percent loss. Oil prices inched up in their sixth straight session of gains, lifted by a shutdown at Libya’s largest oilfield over the weekend and the U.S. strikes against Syria. U.S. crude was about 0.2 percent higher at$53.17, lingering near a five-week high touched earlier in the session. The market jitters and a weaker dollar were a boon for gold, which rose for a third consecutive session. Spot gold advanced 0.15 percent to $1,256.70 an ounce in early trade.