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Shares rise on U.S. housing data; Ukraine vote looms

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Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange May 21, 2014. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

By Herbert Lash

New York (Reuters) - Global equity markets edged higher on Friday after better-than-expected U.S. housing data lifted Wall Street into record territory, but yields on Treasuries fell over uncertainty about elections in Ukraine over the weekend.

The benchmark S&P 500 rose above a closing record high set 10 days ago, but was still shy of an all-time intraday high above 1,900. MSCI's measure of global equity performance closed in on all-time peaks last seen in November 2007.

But gains were likely a precursor to selling pressure before the close when U.S. investors are likely to fret about the outcome of the Ukraine elections over a long weekend.

"You had a positive data point this morning with the new home sales and the revision of the prior month, so all that's great," said Philip Orlando, chief equity market strategist at Federated Investors in New York.

"But it would not surprise me if we saw some profit-taking toward the end of the day to position going into the long weekend with this Ukraine-Russia standoff out there on the horizon," Orlando said.

Sales of new U.S. single-family homes rose more than expected in April and the number of houses on the market hit a 3-1/2 year-high, further signs the sputtering housing recovery was poised to regain steam, the Commerce Department said. (Full Story)

MSCI's all-country world index .MIWD00000PUS rose 0.25 percent to 418.16, about 2.4 percent from all-time peaks set in November 2007.

In Europe, the FTSEuroFirst 300 index of leading regional shares .FTEU3 closed up 0.21 percent to 1,369.17 points.

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI rose 56.69 points, or 0.34 percent, to 16,599.77. The S&P 500 .SPX gained 6.98 points, or 0.37 percent, to 1,899.47 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC added 20.141 points, or 0.48 percent, to 4,174.483.

Traders sought safe-haven bonds on the belief that elections in Greece and Ukraine could result in market volatility, including renewed worries of a Greek exit from the euro currency and the potential for greater tensions surrounding Ukraine.

"European parliamentary elections and Ukraine elections are key events in the near term which could be driving people into the safety of U.S. Treasuries," said Robbert Van Batenburg, director of market strategy at Newedge USA LLC in New York.

If Greece's leftist Syriza party wins, its leaders could reject the government's austerity policies and threaten to leave the euro zone, he said. If pro-separatist voters in eastern Ukraine fail to participate, it could stoke further tensions between Russia and Ukraine.

U.S. government bond prices rose, with the 10-year note US10YT=RR up 5/32, yielding 2.5356 percent.

The euro fell to a three-month low of $1.3614 and a 17-month trough against the pound after soft German business sentiment stoked expectations the European Central Bank will lower interest rates next month. Concerns that Sunday's European Union election results could destabilize some euro zone governments also weighed on the euro.

The euro EUR= was last $1.3625, down 0.21 percent.

Brent oil was supported by the crises in Ukraine and Libya as well as positive economic data in the world's top two oil consumers, the United States and China. Investors kept watch on elections in Ukraine, a main gas supply route.

Brent LCOc1 was up 11 cents at $110.47 a barrel. The contract touched $111.04 the previous day, the highest since March 4. U.S. crude CLc1 gained 73 cents to $104.47.

(Reporting by Herbert Lash; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Meredith Mazzilli)