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Asia markets slip, Iran tensions lift energy firms

21 march 2012, 17:43
Asian markets slipped in early trade on Tuesday as dealers looked for a foothold to spur buying despite a positive lead from Wall Street, AFP reports.

Energy firms were the stand-out plays as oil prices remained at elevated levels thanks to the ongoing tensions between Iran and the West.

Hong Kong slipped 0.53 percent, Sydney was 0.36 percent lower, Seoul gave up 0.21 percent and Shanghai was 0.75 percent.

Tokyo was closed for a public holiday.

With few catalysts investors took a breather from a rally since the start of 2012 that has seen most markets rise between 10 and 20 percent thanks to upbeat data from the United States and easing fears over Europe's debt crisis.

Wall Street provided a positive cue after Apple said it would use some of its $98 billion cash stockpile to pay its first quarterly dividend since 1995 -- $2.65 per share -- and buy back $10 billion of shares.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite rose 0.75 percent, the Dow added 0.05 percent and the broad S&P 500 gained 0.40 percent.

Adding to Apple's lustre was its announcement that it sold a record three million of the new iPad, which launched globally on Friday.

However, Apple-linked Asian shares were mixed despite the news.

In Seoul LG Display rose 2.4 percent and Hynix Semiconductor added 0.2 percent but LG Innotek dropped 0.9 percent Samsung SDI slipped 1.0 percent.

Energy firms continued to prove attractive on the back of still-high crude costs, which have been driven by the ongoing row between Tehran and the West over the Islamic republic's nuclear programme.

Iran at the weekend refused to budge over the issue, saying it is for civilian purposes and denying US claims it is trying to build an atomic bomb.

The Middle Eastern country has refused to shut off a key oil route if Washington and Europe hit it with more sanctions, stoking fears over supply.

While the two main contracts eased slightly Tuesday -- owing to oil giant Saudi Arabia saying it would help stabilise prices -- they are still close to multi-year highs.

New York's main contract, West Texas Intermediate crude for delivery in April, shed 10 cents to $107.99 per barrel while Brent North Sea crude for May settlement was down 55 cents at $125.16.

In Sydney, Woodside Petroleum rose 0.5 percent and Origin Energy also gained 0.5 percent, while in Seoul S-Oil climbed 1.7 percent and SK Innovation advanced 3.2 percent.

On currency markets the euro and dollar held up against the yen, pushing back after the Japanese unit's surge in recent years that was caused by global economic uncertainty.

In early Singapore trade the euro was at $1.3230, compared with $1.3239 late Monday in New York, and at 110.40 yen compared with 110.35 yen. The dollar was at 83.44 yen, from 83.35 yen.

Gold was at $1,656.90 an ounce at 0300 GMT, compared with $1,653.64 late Monday.

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