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World stocks surge: Nikkei tops 20,000, Europe hits 15-year high

By Marc Jones
A general view of the Frankfurt stock exchange March 16, 2015. REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski/Files

By Marc Jones

LONDON (Reuters) - World shares approached record highs on Friday, as hopes of more easy money from top central banks pushed Japan's Nikkei past 20,000 points for the first time in 15 years and European stocks reached similar heights.

The stock market push was complemented by another low for euro zone bond yields, after Greece repaid a loan tranche to the International Monetary Fund to keep alive its hopes of more aid.

Subdued Chinese inflation also led to talk of additional stimulus from Beijing, and upbeat data from major economies like the United States and Germany kept oil on course for a weekly gain of almost three percent.

The dollar was on course for its best week since 2011. The euro weakened and sterling tumbled on the day after the UK reported unexpectedly poor industrial production data.

"We look set for a strong finish to the week for European markets with further declines in European yields and the euro acting as the catalyst for new multi-year highs this week," Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets, said in a note.

Buoyed by gains in Asia and the latest slide in the euro, the pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 share index reached a 15-year high in early trading and headed for its ninth week of rises in the last 10.

Germany's DAX also scored a record high. Britain's FTSE 100, France's CAC 40 and the region's other main indexes all made ground.

Along with the ECB's stimulus programme and the weak euro, news that Greece had made a 450 million-euro loan payment to the IMF and secured extra emergency funding from the ECB for its banks also helped the mood.

Greek markets were closed for an Orthodox Greek holiday, but Greek bonds were heading for their best week in two months with yields down almost 3 percent. German Bund yields were also grinding back towards record lows.

"There was a bit of relief that they made that repayment yesterday and it looks like they're going to be able to pay that T-bill next week," Rabobank fixed income strategist Lyn Graham-Taylor said.

"But the market is whipping around. We're very, very far from any sort of resolution that gets us through the next six months to a year."

DOLLAR BULLS

The dollar was on track for its first weekly rise in a month as jobless claims data eased concern about the U.S. labour market and attention shifted back to the chances the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates this year.

Against a basket of top currencies, the dollar rose almost half a percent to a three-week high in morning trade in Europe, bolstered by diverging bond yields in the U.S. and euro zone that should pull capital into the world's largest economy.

Federal Reserve policymakers hinted this week that the U.S. may raise rates sooner than many expect, while European central banks have introduced negative interest rates and are printing money.

Against the euro, the dollar was up half a percent at $1.0607 its strongest since March 19. The euro has fallen more than 3 percent this week.

Sterling also slipped close to a five-year low against the dollar, after data showed British industrial output barely grew in February and construction shrank.

"It's hard to avoid the conclusion that carry trades are playing a part. Note that German bond yields out to 8 years are now in negative territory, the euro is very much a funding currency," said David de Garis, senior economist at NAB.

Among commodities, Brent crude oil futures remained firm after rising on Thursday on strong German economic data and uncertainty about negotiations on Iran's nuclear program.

Brent was little changed at $56.51 a barrel. But U.S. crude slipped 0.3 percent on the day to $50.36. Gold was also flat at $1,194.71 an ounce, down 1.3 percent so far this week following a three-week run of gains.

(Additional reporting by John Geddie in London, Lisa Twaronite in Tokyo)