SYDNEY (Reuters) - Asian stocks fell on Tuesday and the the Turkish lira hit a record low after the United States signalled possible military action against the Syrian government over a suspected chemical weapons attack last week.
Dealers said there was no panic selling though, just truncated trading as investors waited nervously to see how the situation unfolds.
European stocks were seen opening lower, with the Eurostoxx 50 futures, Germany’s DAX futures and France’s CAC 40 futures all down.
“The apparent certainty that military action against Syria is on its way has traders highly uncertain about what the repercussions will be for igniting a powder keg in such an already volatile region,” said Jonathan Sudaria, a sales trader at London Capital Group.
“Naturally, traders will be shying away from risky assets until there is some clarity about the future path of military intervention from the West,” he said in a trading note.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell 1.2 percent, reversing Monday’s 0.4 percent rise. Tokyo’s Nikkei ended 0.7 percent lower, while the safe-haven yen rose broadly.
Emerging markets were hit harder with Philippines stocks down 4.3 percent, while Indonesian shares slid 3.1 percent to one-year lows.
“It’s a risk-off story because of Syria and also if you see broad repatriation from emerging markets currencies, the yen will benefit,” said Michael Turner, strategist at RBC.
Both the dollar and euro lost ground against the Japanese currency with the greenback easing 0.4 percent to 98.15 yen, while the euro declined by 0.5 percent to 131.12 yen.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, in the most forceful reaction yet to the August 21 gas attack outside Damascus, said President Barack Obama “believes there must be accountability for those who would use the world’s most heinous weapons against the world’s most vulnerable people.”
Kerry said Obama was consulting with allies before he decides on how to respond. His comments saw U.S. stocks .SPX end 0.4 percent lower in light volumes on Monday.
The risk of supply disruption lifted Brent crude above $111 a barrel to five-month highs. It last traded up 0.3 percent at $111.06 a barrel. U.S. crude gained 0.3 percent to $106.19.
Hit by heightened concerns over neighbouring Syria, the Turkish lira slumped to a record low around two to the dollar.
The lira was already under pressure with investors pulling out of emerging markets to position for a post-stimulus world with many betting the U.S. Federal Reserve will start reducing its bond-buying programme next month.
In Asia, the Indian rupee and the Malaysian ringgit were notable movers. The rupee hit a record low at 65.71 per dollar, while the ringgit reached a three-year low around 3.3300 per dollar.
“It’s has been a tough time for many emerging market currencies over recent weeks,” said Greg Gibbs, currency strategist at RBS.
“The timing of the taper almost appears less relevant now, just the fact that the Fed is thinking it is likely to happen over the next year appears to be enough.”
Brazil’s finance minister said the Fed has communicated its plans to reduce monetary stimulus “poorly”, prompting some of the wild swings in the value of currencies and stocks in emerging market economies.
Senior Chinese officials on Tuesday urged the Fed to consider when and how fast it would unwind stimulus to avoid harming emerging market economies.
Investors also gave commodities a wide berth with copper shedding 0.4 percent to $7,332 a tonne.
Gold slipped to $1,399 an ounce, having reached an 11-week peak above $1,406 on Monday. It has rallied more than $200 since the end of June when prices troughed at three-year lows and traders suspect some profit-taking is in order.
Additional reporting by Cecile Lefort in Sydney; Editing by Eric Meijer