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Asian markets mixed as global tensions rise on apparent oil-tanker attacks

Asian markets were mixed in early trading Friday as oil prices surged following apparent attacks on two tankers near the Strait of Hormuz.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Iran, through Iran rejected those claims, as tensions grew in the Persian Gulf. Late Thursday, the U.S. said it had evidence that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard removed an unexploded mine from a tanker, suggesting Iran tried to hide evidence of its involvement.

Benchmark U.S. crude CLN19, +0.36%   dipped 29 cents to $51.99. It rose 2.2% to settle at $52.28 a barrel Thursday. Brent crude oil BRNQ19, +0.72%  , the international standard, fell 8 cents to $61.23 a barrel, after rising 2.2% on Thursday.

Geopolitical tensions remained high elsewhere, as Hong Kong remained on edge in the aftermath of violent clashes between police and protesters earlier this week. Protests against a proposed extradition law continued, though were noticeably more subdued, while the prospect of further protests over the weekend loomed large. Meanwhile, there were fresh threats from the U.S. that President Donald Trump may raise tariffs against China if President Xi Jinping doesn’t meet with him at the G-20 summit in Japan later this month. On Thursday, a group of American companies, including Walmart Inc. WMT, -0.16%   and Target Corp. TGT, +0.05%  , sent a letter to Trump urging him make a trade deal and end the tariff war.

Japan’s Nikkei NIK, +0.26%   rose 0.2% while South Korea’s Kospi 180721, -0.23%   retreated 0.3%. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index HSI, -0.45%   fell 0.4% and the Shanghai Composite SHCOMP, -0.09%  inched up 0.1%. Benchmark indexes in Taiwan Y9999, -0.13%  and Singapore STI, -0.03%   were about flat, while stocks rose in Indonesia JAKIDX, -0.12%  . Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 XJO, +0.09%   rose slightly.

Among individual stocks, Sony 6758, +2.98%   rose in Tokyo trading, along with Inpex 1605, +1.45%   and Fast Retailing 9983, +1.49%   . In Hong Kong, PetroChina 857, +1.18%  gained while AAC 2018, -1.64%   and Wharf Real Estate 1997, -1.04%   fell. LG Electronics 066570, -1.71%   slid in South Korea, and Foxconn 2354, +0.65%  advanced in Taiwan. Oil Search OSH, +2.10%   and Rio Tinto RIO, +3.43%   gained in Australia.

Gains in energy and internet companies helped drive stocks broadly higher on Wall Street overnight, snapping a two-day losing streak for the market in an otherwise choppy week of trading.

Investors have been searching for direction as they cautiously await any new developments on the global trade war between the U.S. and China. Any continued escalations could crimp global economic growth and halt what is poised to be the longest economic expansion in U.S. history.

The market is also looking ahead to next week’s meeting of policyholders of the U.S. Federal Reserve. Last week, Fed Chair Jerome Powell set off a market rally after he signaled that the central bank is willing to cut interest rates to help stabilize the economy if the trade war between Washington and Beijing starts to crimp growth.

The S&P 500 index SPX, +0.41%   rose 11.80 points, or 0.4%, to 2,891.64. The benchmark index has been seesawing this week, opening strong on Monday, and then falling for two straight days before reversing course again on Thursday. The uneven week follows the index’s best week of 2019.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, +0.39%   gained 101.94 points, or 0.4%, to 26,106.77. The Nasdaq composite COMP, +0.57%   added 44.41 points, or 0.6%, to 7,837.13.

The suspected attacks in the Strait of Hormuz come amid heightened tensions between the United States and Iran. One third of all oil traded by sea, which amounts to 20% of oil traded worldwide, passes through the strait. The U.S. blamed Iran in what it called a campaign of “escalating tensions” in a region crucial to global energy supplies.

Economists Nicholas Mapa and Prakash Sakpal said in their report for ING that the market tone for the day was “wait and watch.”

“Setting the mixed tone for markets today, escalation of geopolitical tensions in the Gulf region counters the positive investor sentiment from rising expectations of the U.S. Fed easing,” the report said.

The dollar USDJPY, -0.06%   fell to 108.32 Japanese yen from 108.44 yen on Thursday. The euro weakened to $1.1278 from $1.1294.