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ASX set to fall as US diplomats' exodus from Kyiv prompts Wall St sell-off

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A photo highlighting the word losses on the ASX share market boards.

Australian shares are expected to start the day lower after Wall Street indices turned sharply lower overnight as Russia-Ukraine tensions came to the boil.

ASX futures were down 1.1 percent to 7,066 by 06:52 am AEDT.

The Australian dollar was down at 71.24 US cents by 06:52 am AEDT.

Wall St sell-off as the US evacuates Kyiv embassy

News that the US is closing its embassy in Ukraine's capital Kyiv heightened geopolitical tensions and prompted a sell-off in choppy trading on Wall Street.

All three major US indexes fell after the Wall Street Journal reported that US diplomatic operations were being moved to western Ukraine, in a possible harbinger of an imminent Russian invasion.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged state officials, politicians, and business leaders who have recently left the country to return within 24 hours to show unity.

"We have been told that February 16 will be the day of the attack, but we will make it the day of unity," he said.

"Investors don't like uncertainty, and this is obviously a period of increased uncertainty and that's why you're seeing this volatility," said Robert Pavlik, senior portfolio manager at Dakota Wealth in Fairfield, Connecticut.

Geopolitical anxieties have been simmering in recent weeks as negotiators scramble to find a diplomatic path forward and Russia amasses troops along the Ukrainian border.

US warnings that Russia could invade Ukraine at any time pushed oil prices to fresh seven-year peaks.

Brent crude oil was up, trading at $US96.11 a barrel, by 06:52 am AEDT.

US Fed rate hike talk

Adding to the uncertainty were increasingly hawkish comments from St Louis Federal Reserve President James Bullard, reiterating his call for a faster rate hike timeline and saying the central bank's "credibility is on the line" in its battle against rising prices.

"We're contending with two major concerns," Mr. Pavlik said.

"What are we going to see from the Federal Reserve and what are we going to see from Russia?"

Recent data showed US inflation at its hottest level in decades, ratcheting up concerns that the Fed could begin hiking key interest rates more aggressively than many have anticipated.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.7 percent, the S&P 500 lost 0.58 percent and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 0.11 percent

European stocks slump

Europe's STOXX 600 share index tumbled as much as 3 percent and spot gold-headed toward its biggest single-day gain in four months even as Russia suggested it was ready to keep talking to the West to try to defuse the crisis.

Ukraine's government bonds slumped 10 percent to their lowest level of the crisis as strength in the Swiss franc underscored the appeal of safe-havens.

Markets in Europe were antsy.

Major regional bourses fell more than 2 percent, with the pan-European STOXX 600 index down 1.92 percent.

European natural gas prices for delivery in a month's time jumped nearly 10 percent to 81.30 euros per megawatt-hour.

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