AP

Asian stocks fall after West vows more Russia sanctions

Mar 23, 2022, 10:14 PM | Updated: Mar 24, 2022, 11:05 pm

BEIJING (AP) — Asian stock markets fell Friday after Western governments promised new sanctions on Russia and President Vladimir Putin tried to prop up Moscow’s sinking ruble by threatening to require Europe to use it to pay for gas exports.

Shanghai, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Sydney declined. Oil prices were little-changed but stayed above $110 per barrel.

Wall Street’s benchmark S&P 500 index rose 1.4% after the number of Americans applying for unemployment fell to a 52-year low.

Western leaders meeting Thursday promised additional sanctions, which President Joe Biden said were meant to “increase the pain” on Putin. But the leaders released no details of possible new penalties.

Putin threatened to require European customers that rely on Russia gas supplies to pay in rubles. That would increase demand for the Russian currency, pushing up an exchange rate that has slumped under sanctions.

European leaders on Thursday rejected the possibility, potentially setting up a clash over energy supplies.

Putin’s demand is a “cunning gambit meant to frustrate sanctions” while “elevating uncertainty for the West,” said Tan Boon Heng of Mizuho Bank in a report.

The Shanghai Composite Index lost 0.3% to 3,240.22 and the Nikkei 225 in Tokyo shed 0.2% to 28,062.18. The Hang Seng in Hong Kong fell 1.5% to 21,619.33.

The Kospi in Seoul lost less than 0.1% to 2,727.03 while Sydney’s S&P-ASX 200 gained 0.3% to 7,409.00. New Zealand, Singapore and Bangkok advanced while Jakarta declined.

On Wall Street, the S&P 500 rose to 4,520.16. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 1% to 34,707.94 and the Nasdaq composite rose 1.9% to 14,191.84.

Technology and communications stocks propelled the gains.

Big Tech companies have outsized values that tend to sway the broader market in either direction. Chipmaker Nvidia vaulted 9.8% for the biggest gain in the S&P 500. Facebook parent, Meta, rose 2.9%.

Health care stocks also rose. Insurers UnitedHealth Group added 2% and Anthem gained 2.5%.

Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine sparked investor unease about the impact on prices of oil, gas, wheat and other commodities. Russia is the second-biggest oil exporter and both Moscow and Ukraine are major wheat suppliers.

Markets already were on edge about plans by the Federal Reserve and other central banks to fight surging inflation by rolling back ultra-low interest rates and other stimulus that is pushing up stock prices.

Oil prices are up more than 50% in 2022 due to worries about inflation and possible supply disruptions.

Benchmark U.S. crude edged down 10 cents to $112.24 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell $2.59 on Thursday to $112.34. Brent crude, the price basis for international oils, gained 35 cents to $115.65 per barrel in London. It lost $2.57 the previous session to $119.03 a barrel.

The dollar declined to 121.25 yen from Thursday’s 122.26 yen. The euro gained to $1.1039 from $1.0997.

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Asian stocks fall after West vows more Russia sanctions