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A man smokes near a board displaying currency exchange rates in central Moscow July 17, 2014. U.S. President Barack Obama imposed the toughest U.S. sanctions yet on Russia, striking at the heart of Vladimir Putin's power base by targeting companies closest to him over what Washington says is Moscow's failure to curb violence in Ukraine. (SERGEI KARPUKHIN/REUTERS)
A man smokes near a board displaying currency exchange rates in central Moscow July 17, 2014. U.S. President Barack Obama imposed the toughest U.S. sanctions yet on Russia, striking at the heart of Vladimir Putin's power base by targeting companies closest to him over what Washington says is Moscow's failure to curb violence in Ukraine. (SERGEI KARPUKHIN/REUTERS)

Premarket: New Russia sanctions rattle markets, ruble tumbles Add to ...

A tightening of Western sanctions on Russia rattled world markets on Thursday, sending Moscow stocks and the ruble tumbling and lifting traditional safe-haven currencies and bonds.

The new U.S. sanctions announced late on Wednesday effectively shut off longer-term dollar funding for companies close to President Vladimir Putin. The EU also expanded its punishments for certain firms and said it would ask two of its development banks to halt lending in Russia.

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Moscow’s MICEX stock market dropped 2.7 per cent in morning deals, its dollar-traded cousin, the RTS index, fell 4.4 per cent and the ruble dropped more than 1 per cent against both the dollar and the euro.

“From the West’s perspective they could not have chosen a better time to intensify sanctions,” said Societe Generale strategist Regis Chatellier. “Until a few weeks back Russia was in a position of relative strength because there was massive pressure on oil, but that is not the case any more.”

Safe-haven assets were given a broad lift, with concerns now that Moscow – which provides much of Europe’s gas – could hit back with retaliatory measures.

The Japanese yen, Swiss franc, gold and German government bonds were all higher as the selling of riskier assets accelerated.

The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 extended early falls to be down 0.5 per cent by 1030 GMT as some mixed earnings and Wednesday’s gains – the biggest in three months – also bred caution among investors.

SAFETY FIRST

Asian equities had dipped overnight too, led by Chinese shares. That came despite a fresh record high for Wall Street’s Dow Jones Industrial index.

Mid-year earnings are now in full swing. Later in the day internet giant Google reports its results, topping a heavy slate of big hitters which also includes Morgan Stanley.

“U.S. earnings have been pretty good so far,” said IG Index strategist Alastair McCaig. “It’s early doors, but at the moment the ratio is seven-to-one beating expectations.”

In the currency market, the Russia tensions helped the safe-haven yen inch up to 101.50 yen to the dollar. It also hit a five-month high against the euro as the recent downward trend in the euro zone’s shared currency continued.

“There seems to be a bit more of a safe-haven bid for the yen here because of what is going on with Russia,” said Jane Foley, a foreign exchange strategist at Rabobank in London.

“Remember earlier in the week we also had (Federal Reserve chief) Janet Yellen warning about some stocks being a bit overvalued... so there is anxiety not too far below the surface about some asset prices.”

Data suggesting a shaky start for Germany in the new quarter and wariness about banking problems in Portugal have hobbled the euro this week. Newly revised euro zone June inflation data also bolstered the case for record-low ECB interest rates.

Inflation remained at 0.5 per cent, year-on-year figures on Thursday showed, deep in what ECB chief Mario Draghi has termed the sub-1 per cent “danger zone.”

By contrast, Britain is expected to raise rates later this year. Consequently, the euro hovered near the 78.88 pence it touched on Wednesday, a low not seen since September 2012.

OIL, GOLD CLIMB

Although the Russia/West tensions were rumbling in the background, commodities markets appeared less directly impacted by the concerns.

U.S. crude oil extended gains after rising more than $1 the previous day, after government data showed U.S. stockpiles dropped last week. U.S. crude was up 0.25 per cent at $101.45 a barrel with Brent fetching 107.66.

Aluminum held steady after touching a 16-month high in light of upbeat data from top consumer China, while Shanghai copper fell to its lowest in a fortnight on worries about a possible bond default in China’s construction sector.

Gold ticked higher to trade above $1,302 an ounce, though it remained near a four-week low as investors weighed the possibility U.S. interest rates would rise sooner than expected.

Gold has been under pressure since tensions in Iraq have calmed, and Yellen said on Tuesday the U.S. central bank could raise rates earlier or faster if hiring and wages take off in an unexpected way.

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