Stocks gain on respite in Mideast tensions; dollar firms

Reuters

By Caroline Valetkevitch

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks rose on Tuesday as U.S. President Barack Obama's plan to seek congressional authorization for military action against Syria was expected to delay any strike for at least several days, while the dollar hit its highest in over a month against the euro and yen.

The dollar was buoyed by its safe-haven status on uncertainty about whether the United States will eventually conduct a military strike against Syria.

Wall Street stocks opened higher after being closed on Monday for the U.S. Labor Day holiday.

Congress returns from its summer recess on September 9, and any vote to authorize a strike on Syria will come after that. While Obama has been pushing Congress to back his plan, passage is by no means certain, further easing concerns over an imminent strike.

"Going to Congress creates more certainty about the engagement protocol, and there seems to be a more cohesive approach as to how the government will proceed. That's very good for markets," said Steven Baffico, chief executive officer at Four Wood Capital Partners in New York.

Overseas stocks had fallen following reports Russian radar had detected two ballistic 'objects' heading toward the eastern Mediterranean. But confirmation from Israel that it was a test firing helped markets recover by midday.

Shares of Microsoft (MSFT.O) fell 4.5 percent to $31.91 after it announced a $7.2 billion bid for the phone business of once-dominant Finnish manufacturer Nokia (NOK1V.HE). U.S. shares of Nokia (NOK.N) shot up 38.7 percent to $5.41.

The Dow Jones industrial average was up 96.59 points, or 0.65 percent, at 14,906.90. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was up 15.97 points, or 0.98 percent, at 1,648.94. The Nasdaq Composite Index was up 42.82 points, or 1.19 percent, at 3,632.69.

MSCI's world equity index, which tracks shares in 45 countries, was up 0.6 percent, while European stocks were little changed.

U.S. Treasuries prices added to losses after data showed the U.S. manufacturing sector grew last month at its fastest pace in more than two years.

Benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury notes last traded down 31/32 in price with a yield of 2.904 percent. The bond market also was closed on Monday for the Labor Day holiday.

Focus remains on what the Federal Reserve will do with its $85 billion-a-month stimulus program this month.

Traders expect the Fed to start reducing its stimulus at its September 17-18 policy meeting unless U.S. payroll numbers due on Friday fall considerably short of forecasts.

While tapering expectations support the dollar, a near-term withdrawal of stimulus would weigh on stocks, particularly those in emerging markets that have come under pressure in recent months on expectations of capital outflows.

The euro fell to $1.3157, its lowest since July 22, and was last trading 0.1 percent lower at $1.3180. Its weakness caused the dollar index to gain 0.4 percent to 82.418, near its highest level in a month.

The dollar rose as high as 99.70 yen, near its August 2 peak of 99.94 yen, after having gained more than 1 percent on Monday.

Australia's dollar bounced more than half a cent as its central bank kept interest rates at a record low 2.5 percent, as expected, on Tuesday.

OIL GAINS

Oil futures were higher, supported by worries over any wider conflict in the Middle East threatening already stretched supplies.

After Monday's upbeat round of global data, China's non-manufacturing purchasing managers' index dropped slightly to 53.9 last month from July's 54.1. But it remained solidly in expansion territory and suggested recent government measures are supporting the economy.

Brent crude oil prices edged back above $115 a barrel as the firm China data combined with the ongoing geopolitical uncertainty, while U.S. crude was at $108.09, up 44 cents.

(Additional reporting by Marc Jones in London and Ryan Vlastelica and Julie Haviv in New York; Editing by Patrick Graham and Dan Grebler)

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