World shares flat as policy optimism cools
NEW YORK |
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Global shares lost steam on Wednesday and traded little changed, while the euro fell as a lack of details prompted investors to tone down optimism for early central bank action to tackle the euro zone debt crisis.
Risky assets began rising on Friday after U.S. jobs data eased concerns about global growth but supported hopes of further policy easing by the Federal Reserve. Last week's signal by European Central Bank President Mario Draghi that it may ease borrowing costs for Spain and Italy provided further optimism.
But conviction waned on Wednesday after the Bank of England gave no hint of future action despite slashing its growth forecast.
Investors had hoped the BoE would point to an easing in policy later in the year as the gloomy contents of its quarterly economic outlook had been widely anticipated.
The uncertain direction for monetary policy prompted caution, and stocks on Wall Street ended the day with a tiny gain as investors bought shares in defensive sectors. The advance was enough to extend the S&P 500's rally to a fourth day.
"We're certainly skeptical about the ability of the authorities to really make big changes in the euro zone landscape," said Richard Batty, strategist at Standard Life Investments.
"I think this is just one of those days where the market is coming more round to a more skeptical view of whether they can achieve what they need to achieve, given how poor these economies are and how difficult it is to make the fiscal and structural adjustments to make them more competitive."
Still, hopes were not completely dashed that action would be taken to lower Spanish and Italian borrowing costs, helping to limit the euro's decline and keep a floor under equities.
In a further sign of Europe's worsening economic conditions, France's central bank said the French economy was likely to slip into a shallow recession in the third quarter.
PATH OF LEAST RESISTANCE
Oil futures turned mixed late in the day after Brent crude hit a three-month high on data that showed a sharp drawdown in U.S. crude stockpiles last week and as concerns deepened over the immediate outlook for North Sea oil production.
Brent futures for September settled up 14 cents at $112.14 a barrel after earlier hitting a high above $113. U.S. crude dipped 32 cents to $93.35.
The FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares .FTEU3 closed up 0.2 percent. European shares had gained since Draghi first signaled a more interventionist stance to defend the euro two weeks ago.
The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI edged up 7.04 points, or 0.05 percent, to 13,175.64. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index .SPX added 0.87 point, or 0.06 percent, to 1,402.22. The Nasdaq Composite Index .IXIC was off 4.61 points, or 0.15 percent, to 3,011.25.
Trading volume was again light, with about 5.72 billion shares changing hands on the New York Stock Exchange, the American Stock Exchange and Nasdaq, well below last year's daily average of 7.84 billion.
"It's very positive that we found better footing throughout the session, which indicates that the market's path of least resistance is higher," said Jeff Mortimer, director of investment strategy for BNY Mellon Wealth Management in Boston.
Standard Chartered Bank (STAN.L), under fire because of accusations it violated U.S. laws by hiding $250 billion in transactions tied to Iran, clawed back some of its huge losses and was up more than 7 percent. The British bank's shares dived 16.4 percent on Tuesday on hefty volume.
The bank's top executives were working on its defense strategy on Wednesday, having already contested the regulator's figures.
MSCI's world equity index .MIWD00000PUS was nearly flat, eking out a gain of 0.02 percent.
Graphic - Euro zone bonds yields:
The euro was down 0.3 percent at $1.2359 after hitting a one-month high of $1.2443 on Monday.
Draghi has said the bank may buy the short-term bonds of euro zone nations battling with rising yields on their debt, but that any action had to be in conjunction with the euro zone's bailout funds and under strict conditions.
Since Draghi's comments, "volatility has been pushed lower and (the euro) is well supported. We would expect the euro to fall within a broad range between $1.21 and $1.26, with a catalyst for a breakout only emerging in September," said Camilla Sutton, chief currency strategist at Scotia Bank in Toronto.
In the debt market, Germany's sale of 3.4 billion euros of 10-year government bonds attracted more demand than a similar auction last month, indicating investors' appetite for safe-haven assets has not diminished much since Draghi's statements.
Ten-year Spanish government bond yields briefly touched the 7 percent level - seen as unsustainable in the long run - on the growing view that it may take time until Spain asks for a bailout.
U.S. Treasuries prices eased, with yields reaching the highest in over a month after an auction of $24 billion of 10-year notes was met with tepid demand.
Benchmark 10-year notes were 07/32 lower in price to yield 1.651 percent.
(Additional reporting by Richard Hubbard and Tricia Wright in London, Ryan Vlastelica and Wanfeng Zhou in New York; Editing by Dan Grebler)
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