Ukraine crisis hits shares around world and sends oil and wheat prices soaring

 

The growing threat of war between Ukraine and Russia sent global oil and wheat prices soaring today and triggered a headlong rush out of shares as investors sought bolt-holes from the crisis.

The prospect of a shattering conflict after Russian forces effectively occupied the Crimea sent shockwaves through commodity markets as dealers focused on Ukraine's strategic importance as Europe's bread basket. US wheat futures jumped as much as 4.5 per cent to $6.29 today - the highest since December - amid fears over disruptions to shipments from the Black Sea, one of the world's key grain exporting regions. Ukraine is forecast to export 10 million tonnes of wheat and corn this year, according to estimates.

Brent crude meanwhile rose 2 per cent to $111.24 a barrel, the highest since the beginning of the year, as Russia - the world's biggest oil producer - was threatened with international pariah status following its actions.

In London, investors dumped stocks, sending the FTSE 100 80.28 points or 1.2 per cent lower to 6729.42 - erasing  £20billion from the value of the UK's biggest companies.

The only two blue-chip stocks in positive territory today were both gold miners - Randgold Resources and Fresnillo - as worried investors pushed the price of gold to $1348 an ounce, the highest since last October.

Major exchanges across Europe were on the back foot as money flowed into safe-haven UK, US and German debt, pushing down the cost of borrowing. Germany's Dax fell 2.3 per cent and France's CAC40 was off 1.7 per cent.

In Russia however the Moscow Exchange fell 10 per cent in early trading and the rouble slumped to its lowest point ever against the dollar and the euro as global leaders including US Secretary of State John Kerry threatened Russia with expulsion from the G8 group of nations, possible asset freezes and trade embargos.

The flight out of the rouble prompted Russia's central bank to jack up interest rates from 5.5 per cent to 7 per cent to defend the currency. The central bank did not mention Ukraine but said the decision to raise rates was aimed at preventing "risks to inflation and financial stability associated with the recently increased level of volatility in the financial markets".

But the country's deputy economy minister Andrei Klepach said the capital flight was likely to continue amid freezing Russian relations with the European Union and the US.

"The wave of hysteria will pass, but it is difficult to say when. What lies ahead of us is a period of more confrontation and difficulties." CMC Markets analyst Michael Hewson said: "This will basically fuel concerns about emerging markets. What people are asking is, do we really want our money there?"

In London stocks with particular exposure to commodity prices endured a tough session. Hovis bread maker Premier Foods fell 5p to 139p while Associated British Foods slipped 39p to 2959p.

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