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Oil prices rise on Red Sea conflict escalation

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Oil prices have climbed since the US and UK forces launched strikes against Iran-backed Houthi rebels on Friday, while global stocks have been mixed following the kick-off of the corporate earnings season.

An RAF Typhoon aircraft is pictured at RAF Akrotiri following its return after striking military targets in Yemen during the US-led coalition operation, aimed at the Iran-backed Houthi militia that has been targeting international shipping in the Red Sea, in Cyprus, in this handout picture released on January 12, 2024. Picture: Reuters

OIL PRICES have climbed since the US and UK forces launched strikes against Iran-backed Houthi rebels on Friday, while global stocks have been mixed following the kick-off of the corporate earnings season.

Crude prices spiked more than 4% before ebbing somewhat after the allies launched deadly strikes following weeks of disruptive rebel attacks on Red Sea shipping.

“The fear in the oil market is that the region is on an unpredictable escalating path, where at some point down the road, supply of oil will indeed in the end be lost,” said Bjarne Schieldrop, chief commodities analyst at SEB bank.

He said that if the US/UK attacks were unsuccessful in destroying Houthi weapons, and oil tankers need to go around Africa, then up to 80 million barrels will be locked in transit – sending prices up as much as $5-10 per barrel.

The Houthis have carried out a growing number of strikes on vessels in the Red Sea, a key international shipping route, since the Gaza war erupted in October.

The attacks have affected trade flows at a time when supply strains are putting upward pressure on inflation globally.

In Friday trade, the Dow dipped while the S&P 500 edged higher as investors digested corporate earnings and a surprise drop in wholesale inflation.

Leading banks were mostly lower following a deluge of quarterly results, while airlines were hammered after Delta’s forecast disappointed investors.

“The market is optimistic as it can be about (interest) rate cuts,” said Steve Sosnick of Interactive Brokers, adding that investors want to see solid earnings.

Tokyo and European stock markets ended the week with strong gains.

The luxury sector was in focus after British fashion brand Burberry posted a profit warning, sending its share price sliding more than 9% at one stage in London.

Investors are keenly waiting for a drop in interest rates, which central banks hiked in 2022 and 2023 in a bid to cool decades-high inflation.

While rates of price rises have slowed, inflation remains above target for the US Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank and the Bank of England.

– AFP

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