January 6, 2020 / 8:27 PM / 3 months ago

GLOBAL MARKETS-Gold surges on Mideast risk but stocks pare losses

(Adds gold, oil settlement prices)

* Gold hits almost 7-year high on safe-haven demand

* MSCI world index pares losses, U.S. stocks rebound

* Investors assess risk, turn less risk-adverse

* Dollar eases against Swiss franc

By Herbert Lash

NEW YORK, Jan 6 (Reuters) - Gold prices shot to almost seven-year highs on Monday as a spike in U.S.-Iranian tensions spurred demand for safe-haven assets and pushed a gauge of global equity markets lower, but shares on Wall Street rebounded on a less worrisome view of events.

Oil rose and the dollar weakened after the U.S. killing last week of General Qassem Soleimani, the architect of Iran's drive to extend its influence across the Middle East. The death raised concerns around the world that a regional conflict could erupt.

Iran's supreme leader wept in grief with thousands of mourners thronging Tehran's streets for Soleimani's funeral, and the slain military commander's successor vowed to expel U.S. forces from the region in revenge.

MSCI's gauge of stocks across the globe shed 0.19%, while European shares extended losses. The pan-European STOXX 600 index lost 0.41%.

On Wall Street, the benchmark S&P 500 and Nasdaq turned positive after early declines, a sign investors were taking a cautious approach to the potential for rising hostilities.

The market should be jittery but the recovery from the 9/11 attacks in 2001 and the financial crisis a decade ago have made it easier to take lesser events in stride, said David Kelly, chief global strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management.

"This is a case that the market is probably under-reacting to a threat because we don't know what the Iranians may do to retaliate, and we don't know how the U.S. administration may respond," he said.

However, it is important not to get lulled into complacency because there is some additional risk in the equity market after Soleimani's death and high stock valuations, Kelly noted.

"In the past if you have a big increase in uncertainty, the market sells off first and asks questions later. We're in a different situation now," he said.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.93 points, or -0%, to 28,633.95. The S&P 500 gained 5.46 points, or 0.17%, to 3,240.31 and the Nasdaq Composite added 30.48 points, or 0.34%, to 9,051.25.

Emerging market stocks lost 1.03%, while earlier in Asia, China's blue-chip CSI300 index ended 0.4% lower and Tokyo's Nikkei average fell 1.91% to a one-month low.

Adding to tensions, Iran said it was taking another step back from its commitments under a 2015 nuclear deal with six powers that Washington withdrew from in 2018.

Spot gold hit $1,582.59 an ounce, its highest since April 2013, but the precious metal later pared some gains.

U.S. gold futures settled 1.2% higher at $1,568.80.

The Swiss franc rose against the dollar on worries about a broader escalation of Mideast conflict and the safe-haven Japanese yen surged to a three-month high before weakening against the greenback.

Edward Moya, senior market analyst at OANDA in New York, said the market is still digesting the implications.

"We're having a little softness in the dollar against safe-haven currencies, but I think risk appetite will return. If Iran does retaliate, they know they're toast," Moya said.

The dollar index fell 0.16%, with the euro up 0.29% to $1.119.

The yen weakened 0.34% versus the greenback at 108.45 per dollar, while the dollar fell 0.28% to 0.9701 franc.

The Treasury yield curve was flatter as the heightened U.S.-Iranian tensions boosted demand for safe-haven assets.

The yield on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note has fallen more than 5.0% since the close on Jan. 2, just before an overnight U.S. air strike in Baghdad killed Soleimani.

The 10-year U.S. Treasury note fell 7/32 in price to yield 1.8125%.

The yield on Germany's 10-year bond dropped to its lowest in over three weeks. The bond, a safe-haven that usually gains during global uncertainty or risk, briefly fell to -0.31% .

Yields later pulled back to -0.292%, flat on the day.

Oil prices jumped, pushing Brent above $70 a barrel, as rhetoric from the United States, Iran and Iraq fanned tensions in the Middle East.

Brent crude futures jumped more than 3% to a high of $70.74 a barrel at one point but pared gains to settle up 31 cents at $68.91.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude gained 22 cents to settle at $63.27 a barrel.

Reporting by Herbert Lash, additional reporting by Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfus in New York; Editing by Dan Grebler and Nick Zieminski

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