GLOBAL MARKETS-Shares gain, gold falls as Syria strike looks limited

Wed Sep 4, 2013 2:19pm EDT

* Rising stocks on Wall Street lead European shares to rebound

* Brent crude slips below $115 a barrel, gold prices also ease

* Euro rebounds as dollar trades near six-weak highs

By Herbert Lash

NEW YORK, Sept 4 (Reuters) - Global equity markets rose, lifted by a surge on Wall Street, and gold prices eased on Wednesday as investors took in stride a potential limited American military strike against Syria and data from around the globe suggested an improving world economy.

The best monthly U.S. auto sales figures in almost six years, U.S. trade data that suggested a growing economy this quarter and data from Europe and China fueled the optimism.

The dollar hovered near a six-week peak against a basket of currencies as encouraging U.S. manufacturing data on Tuesday reinforced expectations that the Federal Reserve would cut back its economic stimulus later this month.

Markets showed little reaction to a Fed report that the economy expanded at a "modest to moderate" pace in most of the country between early July and late August. The Beige Book report was just strong enough to reinforce the prospect of a pullback in monetary stimulus.

Brent crude drifted lower and gold prices fell below $1,400 an ounce.

A gain of almost 1 percent on Wall Street led share prices in Europe to rebound. MSCI's measure of global equity markets rose 0.6 percent and the pan-European Eurofirst 300 index of leading shares closed 0.2 percent higher.

"People hope there will just be a tactical strike and that's it," said Mark Grant, managing director at Southwest Securities in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. "But there are worries about retaliation and a wider conflict isn't priced into the market."

A second day of stock gains retraced most of last week's Syria-related losses on Wall Street, pushed by auto sales.

The Dow Jones industrial average was up 95.72 points, or 0.65 percent, at 14,929.68. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was up 12.81 points, or 0.78 percent, at 1,652.58. The Nasdaq Composite Index was up 33.99 points, or 0.94 percent, at 3,646.60.

Auto sales pointed to the industry's strongest month since just before the start of the 2007-2009 recession. U.S. auto sales were on a pace to post a gain as high as 17 percent in August.

"If these sales numbers are the best in six years, that points to an improving economy and that's helping the market," said Stephen Massocca, managing director at Wedbush Equity Management LLC in San Francisco.

Stocks also were buoyed by U.S. trade data that suggested economic growth this quarter. Euro zone businesses had their best month in more than two years in August as orders increased for the first time since mid-2011, while growth in China's services sector hit a five-month high.

The euro pared losses to rise against the dollar, up 0.3 percent at $1.3208, while the dollar index was down 0.25 percent at 82.158.

Oil prices edged lower. While Syria is not a big oil producer, investors worry a U.S. strike against the country could spread unrest in the Middle East and disrupt supplies from the region, which pumps a third of the world's crude.

Brent crude fell 90 cents to $114.78 a barrel. U.S. crude fell $1.53 to $107.01 a barrel.

"If the U.S. does strike Syria it is likely to be very limited and not involve any ground troops or escalation. As such, the unintended consequences from such an attack are also likely to be limited," said Dominick Chirichella of Energy Management Institute.

U.S. government debt prices traded near break-even as bargain-minded investors emerged to help stabilize a market that has been on edge over the possibility the Federal Reserve will reduce its bond-buying program.

The benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note was down 7/32 in price to yield 2.8892 percent.

In Europe, underlying sentiment for top-rated Bunds remained firm, as concern over Syria outweighed this week's forecast-beating European and U.S. manufacturing data, which reinforced bets the Fed would soon pare its bond purchases.

Bund futures closed 12 ticks higher at 139.73, off a session high of 139.96.