Stocks mostly fall, oil gains tracking soaring US inflation

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Global stock markets mostly fell and oil prices extended gains Wednesday as investors pored over data showing further spikes to inflation.

US annual inflation hit a 40-year high in March, the same month that UK prices jumped at the fastest pace in three decades.

Global inflation, already rocketing on supply constraints as economies look to fully reopen following pandemic lockdowns, is spiking further on fallout from the Ukraine war.

"The steepest rises in a generation have unsettled financial markets, as investors digest the unsavoury prospect of tougher hikes in interest rates," noted Susannah Streeter, senior investment and markets analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown.

The JSE's All-Share Index was down almost a percent to 66 258 points by lunchtime on Wednesday. Old Mutual (-6%) and Capitec (-4%) were among the biggest losers.

The rand firmed to R14.49/$.

Tokyo shrugged off the gloom, however, with the benchmark Nikkei 225 closing almost two percent higher following sharp losses at the start of the week.

Analysts said markets welcomed an indication that US inflation was approaching its peak.

In China, where a Covid-19 outbreak has caused mass lockdowns and snarled global trade arteries, the main stock market index lost close to one percent Wednesday.

That came as official data showed China's imports shrank on-year in March for the first time in nearly two years, hit by the coronavirus and weakening consumer demand.

Elsewhere Wednesday, oil prices rose further in a volatile trading week.

"Oil seems to be the primary benefactor of (the) Ukraine vs Russia conflict dragging out longer," noted Stephen Innes of SPI Asset Management.

Russia is a major producer of oil and gas and the war has triggered fears of supply constraints.

However global oil demand will be slightly lower than forecast this year in the wake of strict Covid lockdowns in China, the world's biggest importer of crude, the International Energy Agency said Wednesday.

Russian oil supply is expected to continue to fall in April by 1.5 million barrels per day, according to the IEA, which advises developed countries on their energy policies.

In currency trading Wednesday, the yen hit its lowest level against the dollar in two decades, extending recent falls as the gap widens between Japan's ultra-loose monetary policy and Fed tightening.

Despite being traditionally considered a haven currency, uncertainty fuelled by the war in Ukraine has not caused the yen to strengthen.

Instead, the Fed's move towards a more aggressive rate-tightening policy and the shock of rising oil prices in Japan -- a major importer of fossil fuels -- have pushed the currency lower, analysts said.

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