World markets suffered through a tense session on Monday, with equities falling, oil rising and money piling into the safety of gold after the U.S. assassination of a top Iranian general sparked fears of military escalation.
Since a U.S. drone strike killed Qasem Soleimani Friday, U.S. President Donald Trump has warned of a "major retaliation" if Tehran takes revenge for the killing which triggered a sell-off in stocks and a spike in crude.
"The new year has started with a bang in so far as volatility is concerned," said Fawad Razaqzada at Forex.com. "This is mainly due to the escalation of tensions between the US and Iran after Tump ordered the assassination of Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani, who was killed by a drone strike in Iraq on Friday".
Gold shone brightly to briefly touch $1,588.13 per ounce -- a level last seen in April 2013 -- as investors flocked to the safe-haven precious metal. It then eased back to around $1,565 in the late European afternoon.
European stock markets were all weaker at the close, while on Wall Street the DJIA was down but the Nasdaq posted slight gains in the late New York morning.
Analysts said equities were hammered less severely than some had feared, mostly because the Middle Eastern standoff is expected to have only a limited impact on global growth.
- 'On the defensive' -
"We would expect the impact of these Middle Eastern tensions to be more durable in commodities markets than in equities," said Jasper Lawler at London Capital Group.
But even oil's rally appeared to run out of steam in late Europe, with both key petroleum contracts showing only modest gains.
Iran announced on Sunday a further rollback of its commitments to its nuclear accord, while Iraq's parliament demanded the departure of U.S. troops from the country as fallout from the attack spread.
The crisis has jolted investors who were in an upbeat mood as China and the U.S. prepare to sign their mini trade deal next week, and data indicated a slight improvement in the global economy.
"Geopolitical tensions look like remaining elevated in coming days, so lending support to oil prices and keeping risk asset markets on the defensive," said Ray Attrill at National Australia Bank.
Energy firms rallied meanwhile since higher crude prices tend to lift their profits and revenues.
Inpex jumped more than four per cent in Tokyo while in Hong Kong, PetroChina added four percent and CNOOC surged 3.6 per cent.
In London BP jumped over two per cent and Royal Dutch Shell 'A' shares added about one per cent.
- Key figures around 1640 GMT -
West Texas Intermediate: UP 0.1 per cent at $63.08 per barrel
Brent Crude: UP 0.5 per cent at $68.93
London - FTSE 100: DOWN 0.6 per cent at 7,575.34 points (close)
Paris - CAC 40: DOWN 0.5 per cent at 6,013.59 (close)
Frankfurt - DAX 30: DOWN 0.7 per cent at 13,126.99 (close)
EURO STOXX 50: DOWN 0.6 per cent at 3,752.52
New York - Dow: DOWN 0.2 per cent at 28,582.41
Tokyo - Nikkei 225: DOWN 1.9 per cent at 23,204.86 (close)
Hong Kong - Hang Seng: DOWN 0.8 per cent at 28,226.19 (close)
Shanghai - Composite: FLAT at 3,083.41 (close)
Pound/dollar: UP at $1.3162 from $1.3083 at 2200 GMT
Euro/pound: DOWN at 84.97 pence from 85.31 pence
Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1186 from $1.1161
Dollar/yen: UP at 108.38 from 108.09 yen