Euro, global stocks up on data and U.S. Fed

NEW YORK Tue Jan 3, 2012 6:50pm EST

Foreign currency dealers from the Korea Exchange Bank (KEB) are seen in front of a monitor displaying the current Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI) at the KEB in Seoul December 23, 2011. Seoul shares rose on Friday, encouraged by signs of economic recovery in the U.S. following a string of positive data and easing global liquidity concerns. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

Foreign currency dealers from the Korea Exchange Bank (KEB) are seen in front of a monitor displaying the current Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI) at the KEB in Seoul December 23, 2011. Seoul shares rose on Friday, encouraged by signs of economic recovery in the U.S. following a string of positive data and easing global liquidity concerns.

Credit: Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks and the euro started the year with a sharp rally on Tuesday, boosted by better-than-expected U.S. and European data and hopes the Fed could ease monetary policy further, even as crude surged on tensions between the United States and Iran.

A number of U. S. Federal Reserve officials believed economic conditions could "well" warrant a further easing of monetary policy, according to December 13 meeting minutes released on Tuesday.

This month the Fed will begin issuing policymaker forecasts for its benchmark interest rate and when officials expect the first rate rise to occur.

The euro hit a session high as the minutes were released, advancing to $1.3076 before paring gains to 0.93 percent, or $1.3048, above its 2011 trough of $1.2858 hit last week on trading platform EBS.

The Fed minutes came after data were released showing growth in U.S. manufacturing accelerated in December to its fastest pace since June, while a sharp drop in German joblessness to the lowest in two decades whetted global risk appetite.

"The euro's gains are a combination of both earlier momentum stemming from economic data and the headlines from the (Fed) minutes," said Omer Esiner, chief market analyst at Commonwealth Foreign Exchange in Washington.

"The dollar was already on the defensive today, but the minutes in my opinion do suggest that the Fed is still open to easing monetary policy, which is negative for the dollar."

Asian markets rose after data showed that China's big manufacturers narrowly avoided a contraction in December, though downward risks persist.

European stocks closed at their highest in five months on Tuesday. The FTSEurofirst 300 .FTEU3 index of top European shares ended the day up 1.59 percent.

Data showed German unemployment fell more than expected in December, with the jobless rate falling to the lowest since the unification of Germany.

U.S. stock indexes rallied sharply, hitting multi-month highs. The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI climbed as much as 2.15 percent, hitting its highest since July, before paring gains to close up 1.47 percent. The Nasdaq Composite Index .IXIC added 1.67 percent. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index .SPX gained 1.55 percent after having notched its highest intraday level since late October.

Another report showed U.S. construction spending surged to a near 1-1/2-year high in November.

The data added to growing hopes that a recovery in the U.S. economy, the world's largest, could be gaining steam.

U.S. Treasuries prices fell in thin trading as investors cashed in year-end gains. The safe-haven appeal of U.S. government debt diminished after the December factory report.

"The beginning of the year tends to start out positive as people want to put money to work, but the overseas data can't be overstated in its importance, especially since the U.S. data has been so strong as well," said Sal Catrini, a managing director for equities at Cantor Fitzgerald & Co in New York.

Global stocks as measured by the MSCI world equity index .MIWD00000PUS rose 1.8 percent and hit a near one-month high.

The Reuters-Jefferies commodities index .CRB jumped 2.64 percent, its best single-day performance since late September.

Brent February crude rose $4.75, or 4.42 percent, to settle at $112.13 a barrel, the highest settlement since the November 15 close at $112.39.

Military exercises in the Gulf by Iran and the movement of U.S. naval vessels in the area have raised fears of a confrontation between Tehran and Washington that could cut off oil exports from the region.

Iran has said it could shut the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Gulf, through which 40 percent of world oil is shipped, if sanctions were to be imposed on its crude exports.

In addition, U.S. commercial crude oil stockpiles were expected to have fallen last week as refiners drew down inventories and limited imports to lower their year-end tax requirements, according to a Reuters poll ahead of weekly supply data.

(Additional reporting by Ryan Vlastelica and Julie Haviv; Editing by Dan Grebler and James Dalgleish)

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