GLOBAL MARKETS-Stocks rattled, Treasuries rally after Israel attacks Iran

BY Reuters | TREASURY | 04/19/24 04:22 AM EDT

(Updates at 0805 GMT)

By Huw Jones

LONDON, April 19 (Reuters) - Global shares eased, oil prices surged and U.S. bond yields fell on Friday after reports that Israel attacked Iran, in the latest reminder of how the Middle East tinderbox is casting a growing shadow over markets.

Israel's attack on Iranian soil was the latest tit-for-tat exchange between the two arch foes, sending safe haven currencies such as the yen and Swiss franc higher and putting gold on track for its fifth week of gains.

Oil prices jumped $3 a barrel on concern that Middle East oil supply could be disrupted, but later pared some of the gains after Iran said it has not plans for an immediate retaliation, denying that any attack had taken place.

U.S. Treasuries rallied, pushing down yields on the benchmark 10-year bond to 4.5899%.

The MSCI All Country stock index was down 0.38% at 746.54 points, retreating further from its lifetime high of 785.62 points a month ago, though still up about 3% for the year.

In Europe, the STOXX index of 600 leading companies was down 0.7%.

Markets are caught in the crosshairs of a "triple whammy" - a U.S. Federal Reserve reluctant to cut interest rates, disappointing semiconductor earnings, such as at Taiwan's TSMC, and rising geopolitical risks.

Naka Matsuzawa, chief macro strategist at Nomura in Tokyo said the events in the Middle East exacerbate the trend of rising global inflation expectations.

"This is not just a Middle East thing that causes the risk off now. More fundamentally, it's the fading rate-cut expectations by the Fed, and on the back of it is higher inflation expectations, and this conflict...makes the thing worse basically," Matsuzawa said.

U.S. stock index futures were down about 0.4%, with no major data expected before the opening bell.

Netflix (NFLX) will be an initial focus on Wall Street after its shares fell after-hours on Thursday when the company unexpectedly announced that it will stop reporting subscriber numbers each quarter, seen as a sign that years of customer gains in the streaming wars are coming to an end.

Ross Yarrow, managing director of equities at RW Baird, said the tensions in the Middle East have the potential to tick the two biggest inflation risk boxes.

"The first of that is an oil shock - we have seen this tape play out before, with Brent over $100 a barrel and so on," Yarrow said.

"The other is container shipping costs," Yarrow said, adding that so far there was no sign of these going back up after their blip higher earlier in the year due to tensions in the Red Sea.

Meanwhile, first quarter earnings season gets underway, with market expectations quite low with pressure on a narrow group of stocks to perform, Yarrow added.

CHIPS ARE DOWN

Equity markets were already heading lower before the Middle East headlines, as more robust U.S. economic data spurred additional Fed 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 (TSM) 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.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares was down 1.7%, after earlier diving as much as 2.6%.

The safe-haven yen rallied as much as 0.7% against the dollar, but was last trading little changed on the day. The Swiss franc was about 0.6% higher versus the dollar, paring earlier gains of as much as 1.2%.

Gold was 0.3% higher at $2,385 an ounce, but had risen as far as $2,417.59, just shy of last week's all-time high at $2,431.29.

Brent futures surged as much as 4.2% and were last up 0.9% at $87.95. Iran is the third-largest oil producer of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, according to Reuters data.

Bitcoin was up 1.6% at $64,559.

Japan's Nikkei was last down 2.6%, while Taiwan's stock benchmark fell 3.8%. Hong Kong's Hang Seng lost 0.9%.

(Reporting by Huw Jones, additional reporting by Kevin Buckland; Editing by Sam Holmes and Christian Schmollinger, Kirsten Donovan)

In general the bond market is volatile, and fixed income securities carry interest rate risk. (As interest rates rise, bond prices usually fall, and vice versa. This effect is usually more pronounced for longer-term securities.) Fixed income securities also carry inflation risk and credit and default risks for both issuers and counterparties. Unlike individual bonds, most bond funds do not have a maturity date, so avoiding losses caused by price volatility by holding them until maturity is not possible.

Lower-quality debt securities generally offer higher yields, but also involve greater risk of default or price changes due to potential changes in the credit quality of the issuer. Any fixed income security sold or redeemed prior to maturity may be subject to loss.

Before investing, consider the funds' investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses. Contact Fidelity for a prospectus or, if available, a summary prospectus containing this information. Read it carefully.

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