Asian stocks shaky as jetliner downed in Ukraine

AP and AFP

MUMBAI/HONG KONG–Asian stock markets fell Friday, unnerved by a ratcheting up of global political tensions after a Malaysian jetliner was shot down over Ukraine and Israel launched a ground offensive in the Gaza Strip.

In Europe, Britain’s FTSE 100 closed down 0.7 percent at 6,738.32 on Thursday while Germany’s DAX fell 1.1 percent to 9,753.88. The CAC-40 in France ended 1.2 percent lower at 4,316.88.

Russia’s MICEX index fell by 3.8 percent, a day after the latest round of U.S. sanctions, which targeted two major energy firms, a pair of powerful financial institutions, eight weapons firms and four individuals. The U.S. penalties are meant to increase pressure to end the insurgency in eastern Ukraine believed to be supported by Moscow.

Airline stocks retreated, led by a slump in already under-pressure Malaysia Airlines as the company faced up to its second major disaster in four months following Thursday’s tragedy that killed almost 300 people.

Tokyo fell 1.00 percent, or 154.55 points, to 15,215.71, Seoul eased 0.07 percent or 1.48 points to 2,019.42, while in the afternoon Hong Kong lost 0.28 percent, or 66.08 points, to 23,454.7 However, Sydney ended slightly higher, adding 0.17 percent to close at 5,531.6 while Shanghai gained 0.17 percent, or 3.48 points, to 2,059.07. Regional markets ended broadly lower — with an Israeli ground offensive in Gaza adding to tensions — but made back some ground from early lows.

MH17 was carrying 298 people from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it crashed in eastern Ukraine. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said the jet had been apparently “blown out of the sky,” while officials said it had been hit by a surface-to-air missile. Ukraine’s government described the incident as a “terrorist act,” while comments attributed to a pro-Russia rebel chief suggested his men may have downed it by mistake, believing it was a Ukrainian army transport plane. However, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Ukraine bore responsibility for the crash, which came as Ukrainian forces battle pro-Moscow insurgents in the east of the country.