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    MORNING BELL: Oil in a free fall

    Crude oil continued a downward trajectory in Asia on Tuesday with a downbeat outlook for a near-term rebound. On the New York Mercantile Exchange, WTI crude for February delivery fell 0.24% to $31.30 a barrel. On the Intercontinental Exchange (ICE), Brent crude for March delivery wavered between $31.55 and $33.77 a barrel, before closing at $31.88, down 2.03 or 5.98% on the day. Gold edged down on Tuesday in Asia with investors taking profits after recent steady gains on geopolitical worries and concerns about China's economy. On the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange, gold for February delivery fell 0.07% to $1,095.40 a troy ounce. Silver for March delivery edged down 0.01% to $13.865 a troy ounce. Copper for March delivery rose 0.08% to $1.975 a pound. MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.3 percent in early trade but still stood near a four-year low touched on Monday, and was still down more than 8 percent since the start of 2016. Japan's Nikkei fell 1.3 percent after a market holiday on Monday, hitting a three-month low and down over 8 percent so far this year. On Wall Street, the S&P 500 managed to stabilize on Monday after three straight days of one-percent-plus declines, ending the day up 0.1 percent. In the currency market, commodity-linked currencies stayed under pressure. The Australian dollar dipped 0.2 percent in early trade to $0.6980 after a small bounce on Monday, edging towards the four-month low of $0.6927 set earlier on Monday. The dollar was firmer against other major currencies. The U.S. Dollar Index, which measures the greenback’s strength against a trade-weighted basket of six major currencies, was down 0.01% to 98.91. USD/JPY changed hands at 117.55, down 0.16%, while AUD/USD traded at 0.6988, down 0.12%. In Japan, current account data for November came in at ¥1.42 trillion, less than the adjusted surplus of ¥1.52 trillion expected. The euro traded at $1.0857, having slipped 0.6 percent on Monday.

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