Asia stocks attempt a rally as Iran anxiety ebbs

SYDNEY (REUTERS) – Asian shares rebounded on Tuesday (Jan 7) as a day passed without a new escalation in the Middle East and Wall Street erased early losses to end in the black as tech stocks climbed.

Oil surrendered some hefty gains as many doubted Iran would strike back in a way that would disrupt supplies, and its own crude exports.

Brent crude futures stood at US$68.91 a barrel, having been as high as US$70.74 at one stage, while US crude fell 32 cents to US$62.95.

Gold held firm at US$1,563.50, after scaling a near seven-year peak of US$1,579.72 overnight.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan added 0.3 per cent, after a 0.7 per cent drop the previous session. Japan’s Nikkei edged up 0.5 per cent and South Korea 0.6 per cent.

E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 held steady.

Shares had fallen sharply on Monday as Iran and the United States traded threats after an US air strike killed a top Iranian commander.

The mood calmed a little as the session passed with no new aggression.

Instead there was much confusion when the US military wrote to Iraq on Monday saying it would pull out of the country, a letter seen by Reuters showed.

Yet US Defense Secretary Mark Esper told Pentagon reporters that no decision had been made and the military said the letter was only a poorly worded draft.

Wall Street chose to hope for the best and the Dow rose 0.24 per cent, while the S&P 500 gained 0.35 per cent and the Nasdaq 0.56 per cent.

Surveys of service sectors out overnight showed some improvement in the United States, UK and EU, stirring speculation the closely-watched ISM measure of US services due later Tuesday will also show strength.

“We think the longest US expansion on record still has plenty of legs,” said Tom Porcelli, chief US economist at RBC Capital Markets. “To be sure, Iran adds an additional layer of complexity.”

“But while the risk of conflict has increased, the reality is this is likely to be limited to proxy skirmishes,” he argued. “The risk of a “hot” conflict seems low as Iran is unlikely to respond in such a way that risks a significant escalation from the United States.”

The calmer mood saw the yen lose much of its safe-haven gains, with the dollar bouncing to 108.37 yen from a low of 107.75 hit on Monday.

The euro edged up to US$1.1195, but faces stiff chart resistance around US$1.1240, while sterling made gains to US$1.3170 on better economic data at home.

Against a basket of currencies, the US dollar had drifted off to 97.618 but stayed above the recent six-month trough of 96.355.

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