Markets firm despite ongoing US budget concerns

Markets retain optimistic tone despite ongoing concerns over US budget talks

Associated Press
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A man checks a monitor with stock exchange data in Milan, Italy, Monday, Dec.10, 2012. Italy's stock market fell sharply and its borrowing costs jumped Monday as investors and European leaders worried over the country's political and financial future following Premier Mario Monti's surprise decision to resign. Monti said Saturday he would resign earlier than expected after Parliament passes the state 2013 budget, saying it was impossible to continue after the political party of former Premier Silvio Berlusconi withdrew its support in two crucial votes last week. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

LONDON (AP) -- Stock markets rose on Tuesday as investors hoped U.S. leaders would eventually thrash out a budget deal needed to keep a slew of tax increases and spending cuts from hitting the world's largest economy.

The longer a U.S. deal fails to emerge to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff" of automatic tax increases and spending cuts at the start of next year, the more fidgety investors are likely to become.

"The fiscal cliff and European sovereign debt situations remain lurking in the wings and could well provide some quick price action if we see any developments," said Fawad Razaqzada, market strategist at GFT Markets.

In Europe, Britain's FTSE 100 index rose 0.1 percent to close at 5,924.97, with HSBC rising 0.6 percent after the bank settled a money-laundering case in the U.S.

Germany's DAX rose 0.8 percent to 7,589.75 while the CAC-40 in France gained 0.9 percent to 3,646.15.

In the U.S., the Dow Jones industrial average was up 0.8 percent at 13,277 while the broader S&P 500 index rose 0.9 percent to 1,431.28.

As has been the case for much of the period since President Barack Obama won re-election early last month, the gaze of U.S. investors remains on whether he and Congress can agree to a budget deal to avoid the fiscal cliff, which many economists think would tip the U.S. back into recession.

"Like the debt ceiling drama of 2011, investors expect the fiscal cliff debate to run to the wire, but overwhelmingly believe a solution will be found," said Mike McCudden, head of derivatives at Interactive Investor.

Investors will also be awaiting Wednesday's latest policy statement from the U.S. Federal Reserve. Many expect the central bank to initiate a new bond-buying plan at the end of its two-day meeting in the hope of tempting companies and individuals to borrow through low interest rates. The current program expires this year.

Outside the U.S., investors are keeping a close watch on developments in Italy following the surprise weekend announcement by Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti that he will resign after Italy's 2013 budget has gone through Parliament.

Monti, a technocratic leader who has been credited with restoring confidence in Italy's economy, said he found it impossible to lead after former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's party, Parliament's largest, dropped its support for the government.

Analysts fear Monti's unexpected resignation could spark a new round of Italian political turmoil and slow efforts to get one of Europe's largest economies back in shape. That prompted a big spike in Italy's borrowing costs Monday as well as falls on the Milan stock exchange.

Some calm appeared to have been restored Tuesday, with the yield on Italy's 10-year bonds down 0.09 percentage points at 4.66 percent and the FTSE MIB in Milan closing 1.5 percent higher.

The euro was also firm, trading 0.5 percent higher at $1.3007.

Earlier, markets in Asia appeared to take in stride news that HSBC, the British banking giant, will pay $1.9 billion to settle a money-laundering probe by federal and state authorities in the United States. HSBC shares rose 0.3 percent in Hong Kong and fell 0.3 percent in London.

Japan's Nikkei 225 index fell 0.1 percent to 9,525.32, with Japanese utilities coming under pressure a day after a team of geologists said that a nuclear power plant in western Japan is likely located on an active fault. Japanese guidelines prohibit nuclear facilities above active faults.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 0.2 percent to 22,323.94 but shares in mainland China fell, with the main Shanghai index closing 0.4 percent lower at 2,172.50.

Oil prices tracked equities higher, with the benchmark New York rate up 14 cents at $85.70 a barrel.

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