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EDITOR IN CHIEF- ABDULLAH BIN SALIM AL SHUEILI

Oil tops $105, stocks slump as Russia invades Ukraine

London: Oil surged past $105 per barrel and equities tumbled Thursday after key crude producer Russia sent forces into Ukraine, accelerating fears of a major war in eastern Europe.


Asian and European stock markets nosedived -- with Frankfurt and Paris shedding five percent -- as investors fled risky equities, while haven investment, gold, rebounded close to $2,000 per ounce.


After weeks of warnings from the United States and other powers, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a wide-ranging offensive into its neighbour, sparking fury from other world leaders and vows to ramp up sanctions on Moscow. In reaction, oil rocketed more than eight percent, with European benchmark Brent prices briefly cruising past $105 per barrel for the first time since 2014, while aluminium and wheat surged to record peaks on fears over output from major exporter Russia.


- 'Sea of red' -


"There is a sea of red across global markets," said Interactive Investor analyst Victoria Scholar. "After Russia's invasion sparked an initial spike higher, oil prices have continued to travel north as markets assess the hit to energy supply that is likely to come as a result of the conflict.


" Asian equities plunged, with Hong Kong, Sydney, Mumbai, Singapore and Wellington down at least three percent, while there were steep losses in Tokyo and Shanghai. London shed 3.2 percent nearing midday, as fears grew of a broader conflict. "It's probably not hyperbole to say that Europe is now at its most dangerous juncture since World War Two," cautioned CMC Markets analyst Michael Hewson.


- Russia-exposed firms hit -


Companies with the biggest presence in Russia were among those whose share prices were getting hammered. Shares in Russian metal giants Polymetal and Evraz tanked by 35 percent and 27 percent respectively in London.


"With tough incoming sanctions expected, their businesses are likely to take a major hit with little respite in sight given the seriousness of the situation," said Hargreaves Lansdown analyst Susannah Streeter. French carmaker Renault, which owns a majority stake in Russia's Avtovaz, the maker of the Lada, saw its shares skid 9.5 percent. Also in Paris trading, Societe Generale dived 11.4 percent on concerns over its Russian retail banking subsidiary Rosbank.


"There will be pressure on (European) banking stocks, particularly banks in France and Austria as they have the largest exposure to Russian loans," added Streeter. Germany's Deutsche Bank shed 8.8 percent. Other haven assets profited, with the Japanese yen piling higher against the dollar and the Swiss franc hitting a five-year peak versus the euro. The dollar was up 2.1 percent against the ruble, while the Moscow Stock Exchange plunged almost 14 percent after suspending trading earlier in the day. "It is hard to find any reasons for the selloff to reverse now that it appears the tanks are rolling," said OANDA's Jeffrey Halley. "Stronger sanctions are to come on Russia and energy prices will inevitably head higher in the short term."


- Gas prices spike -


European natural gas prices vaulted higher on disruption worries, particularly after Germany this week halted the approval of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia. Europe's reference Dutch TTF gas price earlier jumped a third to hit 125.00 euros per megawatt hour. Domestic energy prices had already rocketed in Europe during recent months, fuelling decades-high inflation that has caused central banks to raise interest rates, which could in turn slow the economic recovery. - Key figures around 1140 GMT - Brent North Sea crude: UP 8.2 percent at $104.73 per barrel West Texas Intermediate: UP 7.8 percent at $99.21 per barrel Frankfurt - DAX: DOWN 5.1 percent at 13,892.49 points Paris - CAC 40: DOWN 5.0 percent at 6,437.14 EURO STOXX 50: DOWN 5.0 percent at 3,775.49 London - FTSE 100: DOWN 3.2 percent at 7,255.73 Tokyo - Nikkei 225: DOWN 1.8 percent at 25,970.82 (close) Hong Kong - Hang Seng Index: DOWN 3.2 percent at 22,901.56 (close) Shanghai - Composite: DOWN 1.7 percent at 3,429.96 (close) New York - Dow: DOWN 1.4 percent at 33,131.76 (close) Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.1211 from $1.1307 late Wednesday Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.3434 from $1.3544 Euro/pound: DOWN at 83.45 pence from 83.48 pence Dollar/yen: DOWN at 114.75 yen from 115.01 yen.


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