Worries over a potential confrontation between the United States and North Korea weighed heavily on global stock markets on Wednesday but helped boost the price of assets, such as gold and the Swiss franc, that are considered safe havens in times of geopolitical peril.
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KEEPING SCORE: In Europe, France's CAC 40 fell 1.6 percent to 5,135 while Germany's DAX was down 1.3 percent at 12,133. The FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was 0.7 percent lower at 7,489. Wall Street was poised for further losses at the opening bell, with Dow futures and the broader S&P 500 futures down 0.3 percent.
KOREA JITTERS: With President Donald Trump warning North Korea of "fire and fury," investors have become concerned that the war of words between Washington and Pyongyang could spiral out of control. Pyongyang said it was examining plans for attacking Guam, a U.S. territory in the Pacific with a military base. The comments follow reports that the North has mastered a technology needed to strike the United States with a nuclear missile.
ANALYST TAKE: "We're seeing significant risk aversion in the markets on Wednesday, with the escalation in tensions between the U.S. and North Korea triggering moves into safe haven assets," said Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at OANDA.
SAFE HAVEN FLOW: The most traditional safe havens at times of mounting geopolitical unrest are the Swiss franc and the gold, and both were big movers on Wednesday. The dollar was down 1.2 percent at 0.9627 Swiss francs, while an ounce of gold was 1 percent higher at $1,275.
ASIA'S DAY: The earlier Asian session was heavily influenced by the sabre-rattling between the U.S. and North Korea. Tokyo's Nikkei 225 tumbled 1.3 percent to 19,738.71 while Seoul's Kospi fell 1.1 percent to 2,368.39. The Shanghai Composite Index lost 0.2 percent to 3,275.57 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng was off 0.3 percent at 27,757.09.
FED WATCH: As well as monitoring the geopolitical backdrop, investors are looking ahead to an appearance Thursday by Bill Dudley, president of the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank of New York, for signs of the Fed's outlook on the economy. They are looking for confirmation that the Fed is sticking with plans for a possible December interest rate hike.
CURRENCIES: The euro was down 0.1 percent at $1.175 while the dollar fell 0.6 percent to 109.68 yen. The Japanese currency is often a safe have asset too.
ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude added 28 cents to $49.45 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, used to price international oils, gained 40 cents to $52.54 in London.