By Richard Hubbard
LONDON (Reuters) - World shares and gold inched higher on Wednesday as investors wagered that the U.S. Federal Reserve would signal plans later in the day to keep its stimulus intact for several more months.
However, after solid rallies across most riskier asset markets in the run-up to the decision, investors were wary of driving prices much higher until they hear what the Fed has to say about future plans for scaling back its stimulus.
"Tapering, while put off right now, will come back quite soon. We think in the first half of next year they are going to reduce that stimulus," said Christian Schulz, senior economist at Berenberg Bank.
A majority of U.S. primary dealers surveyed by Reuters confirmed that the recent government shutdown and standoff over raising the debt ceiling had made it more likely the Fed would delay the timing of its stimulus reduction. The Fed will release a statement at 1800 GMT after a two-day meeting.
The conviction that it would delay any move to end its steady cash injections though was enough to see the MSCI world equity index add 0.2 percent in early European trade to bring it back to a level last seen in January 2009.
Europe's broad FTSE Eurofirst 300 index also reached its highest peak in five years after a gain of 0.3 percent in early trading.
European shares were supported by some solid corporate earnings news from the likes of clothing retailer Next (NXT.L), and after Wall Street's strong finish on Tuesday.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 set life-time closing highs when a key gauge of consumer sentiment showed confidence tumbled in October, adding to recent evidence of sluggish economic growth.
A report on private sector jobs growth in the United States for October due out later should add further weight to the view that this month's political showdown in Washington has caused a setback in the nascent recovery.
In the currency market, the dollar touched a one-week high against a basket of major currencies as investors who had been selling the greenback trimmed positions ahead of the announcement.
Dollar sellers had driven the U.S. unit to nine-month lows by the end of last week, taking their lead from steady easing in U.S. Treasury yields. The 10-year T-note stood at around 2.5 percent, down from 3 percent in September when the Fed first delayed a widely-anticipated tapering decision.
Against the yen, the dollar was steady at 98.17 yen JPY=, also close to a one-week high.
The euro meanwhile held firm at $1.3741, and showed little reaction to data confirming that Spain's economy emerged from recession between July and September after contracting for nine quarters.
Commodity markets were mostly holding their ground as the Fed announcement neared, with gold seen the most exposed to any extension in the Fed's money printing programme due its role as protector against the ravages of any future inflation.
Gold has risen about 7 percent from a three-month low on October 15 when investors began to price in a tapering delay and was up 0.2 percent at $1,346.11 an ounce.
Conversely, Brent crude oil slipped slightly as the Fed announcement neared and was trading under $109 a barrel though prices were expected to be supported by the announcement.
"If (the Fed) acts as expected and there is no change in their position, it will likely support oil prices, but not cause them to be pushed up significantly," Tetsu Emori, a commodities fund manager at Astmax Investments, said.
Brent oil futures lost 7 cents to $108.94 a barrel while U.S. crude oil dipped 65 cents to $97.54.
Traders termed this partly a consolidation after a big gain on Monday when reports of a sharp drop in Libyan oil exports rekindled worries over global supply. (Additional reporting by David Sheppard; editing by Stephen Nisbet)