* MSCI Asia ex-Japan -0.09%
* Brent crude barely higher after U.S. strikes in Syria, Iraq
* Gold continues push higher
* Asian stock markets: tmsnrt.rs/2zpUAr4
By Andrew Galbraith
SHANGHAI, Dec 30 (Reuters) - A broad gauge of Asian share markets fell on Monday as investors consolidated gains after scaling 18-month highs last week, while oil was steady after the U.S. carried out air strikes on an Iranian-backed Shi’ite Muslim militia group in Iraq and Syria.
Around 0145 GMT, MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was 0.09% lower. The index had touched its highest level since June 19, 2018 on Friday, lifted by investor hopes that a U.S.-China trade deal would be signed soon.
Chinese blue chips were 0.15% lower, while Australian shares shed 0.56%. Japan’s Nikkei stock index slid 0.51%.
Easing trade war worries and reduced uncertainty over the United Kingdom’s plans to leave the European Union after British elections returned a strong Conservative majority have offered a lift to global equities this month, helping the broad MSCI Asia index rise more than 6% and putting it on track for its strongest month since January.
Kay Van-Petersen, global macro strategist at Saxo Capital Markets, said that limited liquidity near the year-end and easing of U.S.-China trade and Brexit uncertainties has “just left us drifting up higher. So even if there is a pullback... I don’t think it’s going to be significant by any means.”
Holiday cheer had lifted global equity markets late last week, helping the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average to eke out record closing highs on Friday.
The Dow ended 0.08% higher at 28,645.26 and the S&P edged up just 0.11 points to 3,240.02. The Nasdaq Composite lost steam at the close, falling 0.17% to 9,006.62.
Oil also gained on Friday, with prices posting their fourth consecutive weekly gain to steady around three-month highs. On Monday, global benchmark Brent crude was up 0.07% to $68.21 per barrel, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude shaved off 0.05% to $61.69 per barrel.
The small moves in oil came despite news of U.S. air strikes in Iraq and Syria against Kataib Hezbollah, an Iran-backed militia group. U.S. officials said Sunday that the attacks were successful, but warned that “additional actions” may be taken to defend U.S. interests.
Stephen Innes, strategist at AxiTrader, said that the rise of shale oil production helped to dampen the effect of geopolitical risks.
“Shale can really ramp up more volumes to accommodate any shortfall that could possibly be triggered by escalation in Syria,” he said, adding that an upsurge in populism in Iraq posed a larger risk to markets.
Iraq’s oil ministry said on Sunday that the halting of oil production at Iraq’s southern Nassiriya oilfield by protestors would not effect the country’s exports and production operations.
Gold also continued its run-up, after posting its best week in more than four months on Friday amid thin trading volumes, in a sign that some investors continue to see risks to global growth and U.S.-China trade.
The precious metal was last trading up 0.25% at $1,514.19 per ounce on the spot market.
In the currency market, the dollar was 0.07% lower against the yen at 109.33 and the euro was up 0.17% on the day at $1.1194.
The dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of six major rivals, was down by a hair to 96.891.
The yield on benchmark 10-year Treasury notes was at 1.8787% in thin trade compared with its U.S. close of 1.873% on Friday, while the two-year yield edged down to 1.5812% compared with a U.S. close of 1.589%. (Reporting by Andrew Galbraith; Editing by Michael Perry)