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    MORNING BELL: Oil below $30; oil inventories ahead

    Crude oil prices slumped in Asia on Wednesday as U.S. refined product inventories rose sharply last week, according to industry estimates. The American Petroleum Institute said crude stocks fell by 3.9 million barrels last week, while distillate supplies gained 3.7 million barrels and gasoline inventories jumped 7 million barrels. On the New York Mercantile Exchange, WTI crude for February delivery slumped 1.02% to $30.69 a barrel. On the Intercontinental Exchange (ICE), Brent crude for March delivery wavered between $30.55 and $32.67 a barrel, before settling at 30.91, down 0.97 or 3.04% on the day.

    Gold dropped in early Asia on Wednesday ahead of trade data from China expected to set the tone. On the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange, gold for February delivery eased 0.30% to $1,086.40 a troy ounce. Silver futures for March delivery fell 0.18% to $13.780 a troy ounce, while copper futures were flat at $1.959 a pound.

    Japan's Nikkei bounced 1.8 percent from a near-one-year trough. Australian stocks eked out a 0.4 percent rise while South Korea put on 0.7 percent. Gains were guarded with MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan inching up 0.25 percent and away from its lowest since late 2011.

    The relentless drop in oil also took a toll on currencies with economies leveraged to the fuel, including the Russian rouble and the Canadian dollar which slid below 70 U.S. cents for the first time since May 2003. Sterling was another loser after surprisingly weak factory data sent the currency to a 5.5-year low. Other major currencies were relatively stable with the U.S. dollar a shade firmer on the yen at 117.80 while the euro drifted off to $1.0846. The Dollar Index was a whisker higher at 99.039.




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