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Stocks climb as virus numbers comfort markets

Investors are trying to look at the bright side (AFP Photo/CHARLY TRIBALLEAU)

Global stock markets rose Thursday as investors welcomed data suggesting the coronavirus outbreak may be close to reaching its peak.

Crude futures were up, but well off session highs, as traders awaited the outcome of a top producer meeting they hope will agree to cut oil output as COVID-19 slashes global demand.

"Pretty much everywhere you look in financial markets there is renewed optimism," said Stephen Innes of AxiCorp.

"Signs that the number of new daily coronavirus cases is plateauing is driving expectations that social distancing measures will be lifted soon in parts of the world," he said.

That meant investors were happy to take out new positions going into the long Easter weekend.

"Despite some pretty awful coronavirus statistics traders are optimistic that the outbreak is nearing its peak and that governments would roll out more stimulus," said City Index analyst Fiona Cincotta.

Top crude producing nations were holding a crucial teleconference after a collapse in oil demand caused by the coronavirus and a damaging Saudi-Russia price war sparked a crash in the market.

The talks between OPEC and its non-member allies, notably Russia, are seen as the best chance to provide support to crude prices.

As they got underway, oil prices surged to post gains of more than 10 percent, but then settled down to much more modest gains.

- Fed 'steroids' -

Europe's equity markets were solidly higher at the close, although off the day's best levels, while Wall Street also posted solid gains in the late New York morning, helped by a massive Federal Reserve stimulus plan announced Thursday.

"Stocks are rallying after the Fed showed markets their stimulative measures just took some steroids," said Edward Moya, an analyst with OANDA.

But the dollar weakened at the prospect of ever more cash sloshing around the economy.

Earlier, most Asian stock markets had closed solidly higher, except Tokyo.

While the Vix "fear index" has halved from its levels seen in mid-March there was still caution among observers, with health experts stressing that any premature loosening of restrictions could accelerate the spread of the virus.

The economic toll of the crisis is becoming glaringly apparent, with France now in recession after suffering its worst contraction since 1945 and European powerhouse Germany expected to shrink by a tenth in the second quarter of the year.

Despite this, EU leaders are struggling to agree on a bailout plan to support the region, with a major sticking point being so-called coronabonds that would pool debt among nations.

- Key figures around 1545 GMT -

London - FTSE 100: UP 2.8 percent at 5,837.09 points (close)

Frankfurt - DAX 30: UP 2.2 percent at 10,564.74 (close)

Paris - CAC 40: UP 1.4 percent at 4,506.85 (close)

EURO STOXX 50: UP 1.5 percent at 2,892.79

New York - Dow: UP 1.9 percent at 23,878.62

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: FLAT at 19,345.77 (close)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng: UP 1.4 percent at 24,300.33 (close)

Shanghai - Composite: UP 0.4 percent at 2825.95 (close)

Brent North Sea crude: UP 1.5 percent at $33.34 per barrel

West Texas Intermediate: UP 3.3 percent at $25.91

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.0942 from $1.0850 at 2050 GMT

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 108.38 from 108.90 yen

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.2468 from $1.2375

Euro/pound: UP at 87.75 pence from 87.66