Asia stocks tumble on Middle East tensions


Oil prices jumped a dollar and Asian stocks slipped on Monday as spreading tensions in Libya and other oil-producing regions encouraged some profit taking after last week’s solid gains.

Brent crude oil futures and U.S. crude futures both vaulted around $1/bbl to $103.50 and $87.31 per barrel respectively, while gold prices inched higher, adding to last week’s gains of nearly 3 percent.

Anti-government protesters rallied in Tripoli’s streets at the weekend, tribal leaders spoke out against leader Muammar Gaddafi, and army units defected to the opposition as oil exporter Libya endured one of the bloodiest revolts to convulse the Arab world.

Beijing’s latest move to tighten policy in the form of banks’ required reserve increases saw Shanghai (.SSEC) and Hong Kong (.HSI) stocks take a tumble with lenders leading declines.

The MSCI’s index of Asia Pacific shares outside Japan (.MIAPJ0000PUS) eased by 0.3 percent after advancing 2.5 percent last week, its best weekly performance in two months.

“There are few buying or selling cues in the domestic market. Investors will likely stay alert to geopolitical news that could affect markets across the world,” said Hikaru Sato, a senior technical analyst at Daiwa Securities Capital Market.

“The Middle East continues to be a focus, while there are concerns about China.”

While some stock markets across the region have somewhat recovered after a sharp selloff in the opening weeks of 2011, analysts say selling pressure may intensify if tensions in the Middle East escalate further.

Asia-ex Japan equity funds saw the biggest weekly outflows in the second week of February since the first quarter of 2008, data from fund tracker EPFR Global showed.

Moreover, concerns that a breathtaking rally in U.S. stocks in recent weeks, which has boosted the region’s developed markets such as Australia (.AXJO) and Tokyo (.N225) may be nearing a close, also weighed on sentiment.

U.S. markets are shut on Monday for a public holiday.

China’s benchmark short-term money market rate soared more than 300 basis points on Monday after Beijing on Friday raised required reserves for banks by 50 basis points to a record 19.5 percent.

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