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Asian stock markets muted as Ukraine crisis adds to risk factors

MUMBAI, India - Asian stock markets were subdued Tuesday after investors around the world took fright at how the crisis in Ukraine might escalate.

Oil prices settled somewhat after spiking by 2.3 per cent Monday on the possibility of Western sanctions against Russia for its military incursion into the Ukraine's Crimean peninsula. Russia is one of the world's leading energy exporters.

Japan's Nikkei 225 was up 0.3 per cent at 14,698.97 while China's Shanghai Composite fell 0.8 per cent to 2,058.68. South Korea's Kospi fell 0.4 per cent to 1,957.60. In Taiwan, the Taiex dropped 0.3 per cent to 8,581.29.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.4 per cent to 22,591.97. Markets in Southeast Asia were mostly lower.

"Asia is in wait and see mode with traders reluctant to commit to either direction until we get another headline or a bit more clarity on the Ukraine-Russia situation," said IG strategist Stan Shamu in a market commentary.

Developments in Ukraine have dominated the start of what is likely to be a busy week on the economic news front. As well as a raft of U.S. economic data that culminates with Friday's nonfarm payrolls figures for February, investors have the monthly policy meeting from the European Central Bank to monitor.

On Wall Street, the S&P 500 index fell 13.72 points, or 0.7 per cent, to 1,845.73, the biggest drop since Feb. 3. The index was down as much as 25 points at one point before recouping some of the ground it lost. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 153.68 points, or 0.9 per cent, to 16,168.03.

European markets tumbled even more sharply, with Moscow's RTS stock index sliding 12 per cent.

The FTSE 100 index of leading British shares closed down 1.5 per cent at 6,708.35 while the CAC-40 in France fell 2.7 per cent to 4,290.87. The retreat on Germany's DAX was even greater, largely because the country is reliant on Russian gas, with the index ending 3.4 per cent lower at 9,358.89.

Benchmark U.S. crude for April delivery was down 26 cents to $104.66 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract jumped $2.33 to close at $104.92 a barrel on Monday.

In currencies, the euro inched down to $1.3735 from $1.3736 late Monday. The dollar rose to 101.71 yen from 101.54 yen.

The Canadian Press

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