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Fears of spreading violence in the Middle East increased yesterday as President Assad’s Syrian security forces stormed the city of Daraa in an attempt to stamp out a six-week uprising. The US National Security Council announced that it was pursuing “targeted sanctions” against Assad to show that his conduct is unacceptable.

ITALY will join airstrikes on pro-regime Libyan forces that threaten civilians, Prime Minister Berlusconi told US president Obama yesterday.

A REPORT due out today is likely to show that US home prices dropped for a fifth month, prompting further speculation that the Fed will keep to its low-interest rate policy when its bond-buying programme ends in June.

MARKETS:

ASIAN stocks fell overnight after profit forecasts signalled slowing earnings growth, and as copper suffered its biggest slump in about seven weeks. Analysts said that caution ahead of the US Federal Reserve policy meeting, earnings from Chinese banks later this week, and profit-taking across commodities, were weighing on the market.

JAPAN’s Nikkei stock average closed at a one-week low, as exporters were hit by a stronger yen in thin trade ahead of corporate earnings announcements.

INVESTORS will focus on the meeting of the Fed’s policymaking committee being held on Tuesday and Wednesday, with chairman Bernanke holding his first ever press conference after it ends. Investors will look for signs about the US central bank’s stance on monetary policy when the Fed’s bond buying program stops in June.

EUROPEAN shares are set to slip on Tuesday, tracking falls in Wall Street and Asia as investors take a cautious stance before the start of the US Federal Reserve meeting.

CURRENCIES:

THE YEN and dollar strengthened against most of their major counterparts as Asian stocks fell and violence in Syria added to signs Middle-East unrest is spreading, boosting demand for safe-haven currencies. Gains in the dollar were limited by speculation that the US Fed will keep interest rates low due to another slide in stateside property prices.

ENERGY:

SAUDI Arabia is uneasy with high oil prices and concerned about their impact on the global economy, Khalid al-Falih, the chief executive of state oil firm Aramco said earlier today. Saudi Arabia had enough capacity to meet any spike in demand and plug short-term outages in supply, Falih said. Saudi Arabia and other OPEC producers warned last week of the strain of high energy prices on economies still fragile after the global financial crisis in 2008. Oil prices fell overnight, partly due to Falih’s remarks.

COMMODITIES:

SILVER surged by more than 5% to $49.31 an ounce yesterday, to record a 30-year high and to take the precious metal close to the landmark $50 level. Overnight, copper plunged as much as 3.3% and zinc sank as much as 4.4% on the London Metal Exchange, which reopened after a two-day holiday.

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