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Asian markets fall further and oil extends steep losses

Equities fell on Friday after their worst quarter since the early days of the pandemic as traders assess the impact of the war in Ukraine and the Federal Reserve’s plans to fight surging inflation by ramping up interest rates.

Oil fell further following a plunge Thursday in response to news that the United States would release a million barrels a day from its reserves as it looks to rein in a price rally fuelled by Russia’s conflict.

Investors suffered a torrid first three months, with markets across the planet first plunged into turmoil over central bank moves to tighten policy and reel in their Covid-era financial support measures, and then by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Inflation had already rocketed to multi-decade highs in several countries before the war in eastern Europe exacerbated the problem as crucial crude supplies from Russia were slashed and sent its price to six-year highs above $100.

The developments came as profit-takers cashed out after a near two-year rally fuelled by central bank and government largesse.

Despite a pick-up in recent weeks, most indexes finished the quarter in the red.

Traders are struggling to ascertain the outlook for the next three months, with the war showing no signs of ending and the Federal Reserve just getting started on its campaign of sharp rate hikes.

A lowering of growth forecasts for the United States, Europe and China are “something to watch very carefully”, Anwiti Bahuguna, at Columbia Threadneedle Investments, told Bloomberg Television.

The upcoming earnings season will be closely watched to see what impact higher inflation and the war has had on firms’ bottom line and their forecasts for the year ahead.

The release of US jobs data later in the day will be closely followed for an idea about the state of the world’s top economy.

All three main indexes on Wall Street finished more than one percent down and Asia tracked the losses.

Tokyo, Hong Kong, Seoul, Singapore, Taipei, Manila, Jakarta and Wellington were all down, AFP reports.

However, Shanghai rose as traders kept an eye on the second phase of a Covid lockdown in China’s biggest city that will see restrictions imposed on the western side.

Oil prices edged slightly lower, extending a selloff on Thursday that saw WTI lose seven percent after Joe Biden announced he would release up to 180 million barrels over six months.

The president described the move as a “wartime” measure that will defuse Russia’s leverage as an energy power.

However, while the move to ease a global supply crisis was welcomed, commentators warned it would only be a stopgap and could not be a long-term solution.

“It is worth keeping in mind that 180 million barrels is approximately nine days of US demand,” said SPI Asset Management’s Stephen Innes. “And while one million barrels per day is better than nothing and can help balance the four million a day lost from Russia for about six months, what happens after?”

He added: “Markets are still tight, but six months could be a meaningful lifeline and reduce the chances of (more than) $150 oil.”

– Key figures around 0250 GMT –

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.7 percent at 27,618.27 (break)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng Index: DOWN 1.2 percent at 21,724.48

Shanghai – Composite: UP 0.4 percent at 3,265.23

Brent North Sea crude: DOWN 0.5 percent at $104.22 per barrel

West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 0.7 percent at $99.63 per barrel

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1072 from $1.1067 late Wednesday

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.3136 from $1.3143

Euro/pound: UP at 84.28 pence from 84.20 pence

Dollar/yen: UP at 122.39 yen from 121.69 yen

New York – Dow: DOWN 1.6 percent at 34,678.35 (close)

London – FTSE 100: DOWN 0.8 percent at 7,515.68 (close)