By James Pheby, AFP
LONDON — European markets started the week lower on Monday as investors digested last week’s U.S. missile strikes on Syria and the outcome in France’s presidential election race is starting to look increasingly unpredictable. There are fears about brewing tensions between the U.S. and Russia, with U.S. President Donald Trump suggesting there can be no peace while Moscow-backed Bashar al-Assad remains Syria’s president. “Geopolitics trumps economics as the main market driver, with strained U.S.-Russian relations and the dispatch of a U.S. aircraft carrier towards the Korean peninsula making the headlines,” said Societe Generale analyst, Kit Juckes. London was slightly softer, losing 0.1 percent in late morning trade, while Frankfurt dipped 0.4 percent and Paris shed 0.7 percent. “Considering last Friday’s choppy waters, with Trump’s Syria airstrike unexpectedly joining the U.S. non-farm jobs report, the market may enjoy the quiet of this Monday’s economic calendar,” said Spreadex analyst, Connor Campbell.
Among the gainers in London, mining giant BHP Billiton surged 5 percent on the back of news that major shareholder Elliott Funds had written to directors urging them to carry out a major restructuring. France’s CAC 40 suffered the heaviest losses of the major eurozone markets, as opinion polls showed left-winger Jean-Luc Melenchon — who had previously not been seen as a serious contender — gaining ground ahead of the first round of the presidential election on April 23. “The increased congestion in the polling, added to the level of indecision among voters, may yet give the euro a fright,” explained Societe Generale’s Juckes, adding that it could also send shares lower. In Asia, markets moved in and out of positive territory through the day. Investors were underwhelmed by a well below-forecast U.S. employment report that highlights the tough job Trump has in fulfilling his pledge to create 25 million jobs. Oil prices extended gains after Friday’s rally, which came after the U.S. bombings on concerns about supply from the crude-rich Middle East. Oanda analyst Jeffrey Halley said in a note that oil prices “will continue to be headline, rather than fundamentals-driven this week”. “Although Friday’s Syria strike was almost certainly a one-off, with so many players in close proximity the situation will remain ‘fluid’ to say the least,” he added. Key Figures at 1000 GMT London – FTSE 100: DOWN 0.1 percent at 7,339.43 points Frankfurt – DAX 30: DOWN 0.4 percent at 12,180.90 Paris – CAC 40: DOWN 0.7 percent at 5,099.01 EURO STOXX 50: DOWN 0.6 percent at 3,475.16 Tokyo – Nikkei 225: UP 0.7 percent at 18,797.88 (close) Hong Kong – Hang Seng: FLAT at 24,262.18 (close) Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 0.5 percent at 3,269.39 (close) New York – Dow: DOWN less than 0.1 percent at 20,656.10 (close) Euro/dollar: DOWN at US$1.0587 from US$1.0590 at 2100 GMT Friday Pound/dollar: UP at US$1.2400 from US$1.2372 Dollar/yen: UP at 111.33 yen from 111.09 yen Oil – West Texas Intermediate: UP 34 cents at US$52.58 per barrel Oil – Brent North Sea: UP 47 cents at US$55.71