Asian markets dip on reports of nuclear plant fire in Ukraine

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares excluding Japan falls to lowest level since November 2020.

Stock market in Tokyo
A pedestrian wearing a protective mask is reflected in an electronic stock board outside a securities firm in Tokyo, Japan, on Monday, January 4, 2021 [Noriko Hayashi/Bloomberg]

Asian shares sank to a 16-month low and oil prices continued to climb on Friday, as reports of a nuclear power plant fire in war-torn Ukraine shook markets in the region.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares excluding Japan fell as much as 1.6 percent to 585.5, the lowest level since November 2020, taking the year-to-date losses to 7 percent.

Stock markets across the Asia-Pacific were in the red, with benchmark indexes in Japan and Hong Kong sinking more than 2.5 percent, and those in China, Australia and South Korea down between .07 percent and 1.3 percent.

Shares regained some losses amid reports the nuclear plant fire had not resulted in any immediate change in radiation levels. The International Atomic Energy Agency said essential equipment at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant had not been affected by the fire, which was put out by emergency services, citing the country’s regulatory authorities. Ukraine earlier said Russian forces had attacked the plant and a five-storey training facility building next to it was on fire.

“Markets are worried about nuclear fallout,” said Vasu Menon, executive director of investment strategy at OCBC Bank. “The risk is that there is a miscalculation or overreaction and the war prolongs.”

Currencies slide

Asian currencies also fell, with the South Korean won weakening 0.6 percent to its lowest level since June 2020, and the Singapore dollar slipping 0.3 percent to its lowest level since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

US futures were down, with the S&P 500 dropping 0.5 percent on Thursday and the Nasdaq sinking 1.6 percent.

Oil prices jumped on Friday after ending steady a day earlier, with investors closely watching whether the OPEC+ producers, including Saudi Arabia and Russia, would increase output from January. Brent crude futures rose to as much as $114.23 a barrel.

Source: News Agencies