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Update: Euro slips against franc, equities fall after shock Swiss move

[HONG KONG] The euro sank almost two per cent against the Swiss franc Friday and Asian markets tumbled as traders were left stunned by Switzerland's shock decision to remove its currency cap against the euro.

Oil edged up slightly, meanwhile, after plunging Thursday in reaction to OPEC's announcement that it produced more than its limit of the black gold in December, despite weak demand, low prices and a supply glut.

Global markets were stunned Thursday when the Swiss National Bank (SNB) said it would scrap its 1.20 franc cap to the single currency, which had been in place since the height of the European debt crisis three years ago.

The news immediately sent the Swiss unit surging 30 per cent to 0.8517 at one point before ending the day at 1.0035. In Asian trade, it rose again, sitting at 0.9945.

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It also led already nervous dealers scurrying for safer investments, particularly the Japanese yen, although some confidence returned over the day.

The dollar edged up to 116.70 yen Friday from 116.25 yen late in New York, but it is still well down from the 117.70 yen seen in Tokyo earlier Thursday.

The European common currency fetched US$1.1643 and 135.86 yen, compared with US$1.1623 and 135.12 yen in US trade. But while it is marginally up from New York, it is still sharply down from US$1.1773 and 138.64 yen Thursday before the SNB move.

Adding to downward pressure on the euro is the growing expectation the European Central Bank will unveil a vast bond-buying scheme next week aimed at kickstarting growth and avoiding deflation.

Tokyo tumbled 1.43 per cent, or 244.54 points, to end at 16,864.16. The index at one point was almost three per cent down but recovered as the yen pared its gains.

Sydney sank for the fifth consecutive session, shedding 0.60 per cent, or 32.13 points, to close at 5,299.24 and Seoul closed 1.36 per cent lower, giving up 26.01 points to 1,888.13. Hong Kong fell 1.02 per cent, or 247.39 points, to end at 24,103.52 However, Shanghai rose 1.20 per cent, or 40.04 points, to 3,376.50. Traders extended a more than three per cent gain Thursday that was fuelled by bets that the government will unveil new economy-boosting measures.

"The SNB caught almost everyone by surprise and it's creating unease and anxiety in markets," Nader Naeimi, Sydney-based head of dynamic asset allocation at AMP Capital Investors, told Bloomberg News. "The strategy is capital preservation for now, buying gold to hedge against the volatility which is going to continue." Bullion rose to US$1,259.59 an ounce Friday from US$1,246.19 late Thursday.

Oil prices ticked up following another sell-off Thursday that came in reaction to Opec's announcement.

US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for February, which plunged US$2.23 Thursday, rose 33 cents to US$46.58.

Brent North Sea crude for March was up 23 cents at US$48.50. The February contract for Brent fell US$1.02 Thursday, its last day of trading.

The 12-nation Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, which produces about one third of global supplies, said in a monthly report Thursday that its production rose to 30.2 million barrels a day in December, above the cartel's 30 million output limit.

It also projected that demand for its oil would fall to 28.8 million barrels per day this year from 29.1 million in 2014.

In other markets: Taipei lost 0.29 percent, or 26.80 points, to 9,138.29.

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. rose 4.18 per cent to Tw$137.0 while Acer fell 0.49 per cent to Tw$20.25.

Wellington fell 0.45 per cent, or 25.33 points, to 5,616.73.

Fletcher Building was down 1.82 per cent at NZ$8.09 and Trade Me was unchanged on NZ$3.55.

Manila was closed for a public holiday.