Asia: Markets mixed, energy firms recover on oil bounce

[HONG KONG] Asian shares were mixed on Tuesday following a weak lead from Wall Street, while energy firms clawed back some losses and airlines dipped after oil prices rebounded from multi-year lows.

The Russian ruble strengthened slightly against the dollar after suffering its worst one-day fall in 16 years, battered by falling crude and Western sanctions over Ukraine.

Tokyo eased 0.10 per cent as the yen edged up against the dollar, while analysts said dealers were unfazed by a decision by Moody's to downgrade Japan's credit rating.

Sydney jumped 1.00 per cent, boosted by the rally in energy firms after their huge losses in the previous two sessions, while Hong Kong edged up 0.11 per cent and Shanghai fell 0.52 per cent. Seoul was 0.28 per cent lower.

US investors ran for the sidelines Monday after the Thanksgiving holiday weekend saw disappointing sales on the key Black Friday retail day, which officially kicks off the Christmas shopping season.

The Dow eased 0.27 per cent, the S&P 500 fell 0.68 per cent and the Nasdaq sank 1.34 percent.

Oil prices edged down in Asia but were still well off their five-year lows touched on Monday before recovering on bargain-buying.

In early trade US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for January delivery fell 21 cents to US$68.79 - against a trough of US$63.72 Monday - while Brent crude for January was down 14 cents at US$72.40, sharply up from its $67.53 bottom.

Prices have plummeted since Thursday's decision by the OPEC oil cartel to hold output levels despite a global supply glut.

While prices are edging down again, energy giants enjoyed some buying interest after a painful sell-off on Friday and Monday. Sydney-listed BHP Billiton rose 3.8 per cent, Woodside added 3.2 per cent and Santos gained 2.6 per cent, while in Hong Kong PetroChina and CNOOC each gained 1.7 per cent.

However airlines, whose main cost is fuel, suffered losses after recent advances. Cathay Pacific in Hong Kong dipped 2.8 per cent and Seoul-based Korean Airlines shed 2.3 per cent.

On currency markets the ruble edged up slightly to 51.19 against the dollar from 52. The Russian unit plunged almost nine percent to 53.9 against the greenback, its worst one-day fall since the country's 1998 debt crisis.

It has now fallen nearly 60 per cent against the dollar since the start of this year due to collapsing oil prices and Western sanctions imposed against Russia's support for a separatist uprising in eastern Ukraine.

In other forex trading, the dollar was at 118.44 yen against 118.40 yen in New York Monday.

The euro sat at 147.61 yen compared with 147.64 yen, while it also bought US$1.2473 against US$1.2469.

Shunichi Otsuka, general manager of research and strategy at Ichiyoshi Asset Management, said the yen and stocks were not badly hit by the Moody's downgrade Monday. The ratings agency cited Tokyo's debt problems and the government's faltering efforts to boost the economy.

"Little of Japan's debt is held by foreigners, so unless there is a surprise upward impact on interest rates, the picture for equity investing should not be much harmed," Mr Otsuka told Dow Jones Newswires.

"Any softness in today's market should not be directly attributable to the downgrade." Gold was at US$1,206.71 an ounce, compared with US$1,156.80 late Monday.


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