Global shares extend rally, euro firm in pre-ECB jockeying

Reuters
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Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange March 28, 2014. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

By Marc Jones

LONDON (Reuters) - World stocks added a bit to their recent rally and the safe-haven yen sagged to a 10-week low on Wednesday, as investors focused on the positive in a mixed bag of global economic data.

Trading was largely cautious before Thursday's meeting of the European Central Bank and Friday's U.S. jobs numbers, either of which could move markets significantly.

Wall Street was expected to stick close to Monday's record high when trading begins. Before the U.S. opening, European stocks (.FTEU3) clung to 0.2 percent gains as they tried to record a seventh day of gains.

Euro zone inflation slid to just 0.5 percent this month, leading investors to speculate the ECB will soon loosen policy.

Messages from policymakers have been mixed, though. On Tuesday, ECB Vice President Vitor Constancio told a news conference that low inflation was a concern but denied deflation was a threat. That was taken to mean a move by the bank was unlikely on Thursday.

The euro got a modest lift overnight but flattened out during European trading to stand at $1.3782. That was still a shade higher than last time the ECB met, a fact that won't have gone unnoticed at the bank, which has cited the strains of a strong euro as one reason it might cut rates.

"All the money that ran away at the height of the crisis is now coming back in, and that flow, as well as driving this periphery (bond) rally, is keeping the euro high," said Luke Bartholomew, an Aberdeen Asset Management fixed income and FX strategist.

Greek and Portuguese bonds continued to riding the wave of optimism that has taken their governments' borrowing costs to post-euro-crisis lows, after almost three years of economic rehabilitation under EU/IMF bailout programs.

Greek bond yields , a proxy of borrowing costs, hit a new post-crisis low amid talk it would try to resume selling bonds. In addition, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said Berlin would support further financial aid if Greece needs it.

PROPERTY BOOMS

Financial markets now appear to have recovered after stumbling earlier this year. A cutback in U.S. monetary stimulus, the geopolitical tug-of-war over Ukraine and signs the Chinese economy was slowing all weighed on markets.

Even sluggishness in China is now considered favorable, because it bolsters the case for stimulus. There are signs Beijing is hastening infrastructure spending in response.

Chinese state media reported on Wednesday that several cities may relax restrictions on home ownership, lifting stocks on the CSI300 property sub index (.CSICMREI) 4 percent.

"Previously, the government repeatedly talked about controlling the property market, but now they aren't saying anything about this and instead there have been signs of easing policies," said Tian Weidong, head of research in Kaiyuan Securities in Xi'an.

Elsewhere in the region, MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan crept up 0.4 percent to a fresh four-month high, South Korea made a three-month peak (.KS11) while a weaker yen helped recent underperformer, the Nikkei (NIK:^9452), jump 1.7 percent.

U.S. economic news has whetted risk appetite. After encouraging manufacturing and car sales data on Tuesday, ADP jobs figures showed the pace of hiring picked up in March. The closely followed U.S. payrolls report on Friday is expected to see 200,000 jobs added.

"Things are progressing slowly and there is now a strand of dollar strength, as people say this is where the U.S. data gets a bit better," said National Australia Bank strategist Gavin Friend.

WILL THEY, WON'T THEY?

The brighter tone put pressure the long-end of the U.S. Treasury curve, where yields on 10-year paper rose 2 basis points to the highest in a week at 2.7899 percent.

For Europe, A Reuters poll of 22 euro money-market traders found 18 expected no change in the ECB's 0.25 percent refinancing rate this week.

The euro stuttered to a halt at $1.3788 as it tried for its fourth straight session of gains. It also gained as the yen softened, reaching 143.30. The dollar meanwhile held near a 10-week top against the Japanese currency.

Among commodities, Brent crude was flat at $105.54 a barrel. It had shed over 2 percent overnight after Libyan rebels blocking oil ports hinted at a deal with Tripoli, which could increase supply.

U.S. crude eased 50 cents to $99.23 a barrel. It also lost around 2 percent on Tuesday, amid expectations domestic inventories would grow.

Spot gold recovered to $1,293.02 an ounce having slid to a seven-week low of $1,277.29 on Tuesday.

(Additional reporting by Wayne Cole in Sydney; Editing by Larry King)

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