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Stocks sink, oil jumps as Middle East attack reports unnerve markets

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Asian shares and bond yields sank on Friday while safe-haven currencies, gold and crude oil jumped after reports of a sharp escalation in Middle East hostilities.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares dived 2.3% and U.S. stock futures pointed 1.5% lower following media reports Israeli missiles had hit a site in Iran.

U.S. long-term Treasury yields dropped as much as 13.5 basis points to 4.512%. The safe-haven yen rallied about 0.4% against the dollar and 0.7% versus the euro while the Swiss franc rallied about 0.9% versus the dollar.

Gold jumped 1.3% to $2,409.45, heading back toward last week's all-time high at $2,431.29.

"We've seen a massive risk-off move," said Khoon Goh, head of Asia research at ANZ.

"Markets will be very worried that this is the start of a tit-for-tat escalation, which could create huge volatility in the Middle East."

Brent futures surged more than 3% on concerns Middle East supply could be disrupted.

Bitcoin dropped as much as 6.2% to a 1-1/2-month low of $59,590.74.

ABC News cited a U.S. official in reporting Israeli missiles had hit a site in Iran, while Iran's Fars news agency said explosions were heard at an airport in the city of Isafahan.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had vowed retaliation earlier this week after Iran launched hundreds of drones and missiles in an unprecedented direct attack on Israel over the weekend.

That, in turn, was in response to a suspected Israeli strike on its embassy compound in Syria that killed senior Iranian military commanders.

Japan's Nikkei slid 3.3%, while Taiwan's stock benchmark skidded 3.8%. Hong Kong's Hang Seng dropped 2%.

Equity markets were already heading lower before the Middle East headlines, as more robust U.S. economic data spurred additional Federal Reserve officials to signal no rush to lower interest rates.

Chip-sector stocks were hit particularly hard by both the outlook for protracted tight monetary policy and investor disappointment at Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co's decision to leave capital spending plans unchanged. The stock slumped as much as 6.6%.

A day earlier, ASML, the largest supplier of equipment to computer chip makers, reported lacklustre new bookings.

"A triple whammy of sorts for the markets, as Fed's hawkishness keeps taking a leg up with each passing day and semiconductor earnings have so far fallen short," said Charu Chanana, head of currency strategy at Saxo.

"To top it off, geopolitical risks have escalated again...and risk sentiment could remain weak as we await more details on damages and casualties."

(Reporting by Kevin Buckland. Additional reporting by Ankur Banerjee and Rae Wee. Editing by Sam Holmes)

Copyright (2024) Thomson Reuters.

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