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Gold, oil rise as Ukraine tensions spur safe-haven bids

A military personnel member, believed to be a Russian serviceman, stands guard near a local airfield, near the territory of a Ukrainian military unit in the village of Lyubimovka, some 80 km (50 miles) southwest of Simferopol, Crimea's capital March 3, 2014. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko

By Herbert Lash

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Russia's intervention in Ukraine sent crude oil and prices for gold and government debt higher on Monday as investors sought safe havens.

Crude prices rose more than $2 a barrel, gold futures jumped 2 percent and top-rated euro zone government bonds surged as heightened tensions over Ukraine sent investors scrambling. Russia's stock market was the worst hit, though other equities markets, including Wall Street, also fell sharply.

Market volatility indexes, a sign of investor apprehension, surged, with the Euro STOXX Volatility Index rising 23 percent and the U.S. CBOE volatility index up 12 percent.

"Investors had underestimated the risks of an escalation in Ukraine, so the events over the weekend are a wake-up call for the market," said David Thebault, head of quantitative sales trading at Global Equities in Paris.

President Vladimir Putin's forces tightened their grip on the Crimea region of Ukraine, sparking a plunge in Russian stocks and forcing Russia's central bank to spend $10 billion of reserves to prop up the ruble.

Ukraine said Russia was massing armored vehicles on its side of a narrow stretch of water closest to Crimea after Putin declared over the weekend that he had the right to invade his neighbor to protect Russian interests and citizens.

Russia's stock market fell almost 11 percent and the ruble traded off about 1.3 percent after earlier touching record lows against the dollar and the euro. The central bank lifted its base lending rate by 1.5 percentage points to 7 percent at an unscheduled meeting.

Russia's sovereign dollar bonds also fell, while the cost of buying 5-year swaps to insure against a Russian debt default jumped 33 basis points.

Ukraine's hryvnia fell to a record low against the dollar and pushed the country's dollar bonds down 6 points. Safe-haven German Bund futures rose 65 ticks to 145.03.

Banks took the most points off European stock indices, with lenders exposed to Ukraine and Russia falling sharply. Austria's Raiffeisen slumped 8.5 percent, while France's Societe Generale and Italy's UniCredit both lost 5 percent.

The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index fell 2.0 percent to 1,321.43.

No major regional stock market escaped aggressive selling, with all down more than 2 percent and Germany's DAX particularly hard hit, off 3.0 percent and heading for its biggest daily fall in eight months.

The declines followed overnight weakness in Asia, with MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan down 0.9 percent and Japan's Nikkei 225 skidding 1.3 percent.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 162.51 points, or 1.00 percent, to 16,159.20. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was down 15.14 points, or 0.81 percent, at 1,844.31. The Nasdaq Composite Index was down 40.80 points, or 0.95 percent, at 4,267.32.

The dollar and yen gained as investors sought the safety of those currencies after Russia's intervention in the Crimean peninsula.

The greenback was further supported by economic data showing an increase in U.S. personal income and spending in January in the midst of one of the worst winters in recent memory.

The dollar index was up 0.28 percent to 79.918. The dollar's gains pushed the euro 0.37 percent lower at


"Investors turned to classic safe havens amid heightened tensions in Ukraine," said Joe Manimbo, senior market analyst at Western Union Business Solutions in Washington.

Crude oil prices jumped. Brent crude hit a peak of $112.39 a barrel, its highest since December 30, and was up $2.27 at $111.34. U.S. crude jumped $2.09 to $104.68 a barrel.

U.S. government bond prices rose, with the 10-year note up 11/32] in price to yield 2.6208 percent.

(Reporting by Herbert Lash; Additional reporting by Simon Jessop in London; Editing by Dan Grebler)