GLOBAL MARKETS-Europe's periphery stocks power on, bonds cool ahead of payrolls

Fri Jan 10, 2014 8:01am EST

* U.S. jobs could influence market thinking on Fed stimulus

* Periphery stocks add to gains but bonds cool

* Chinese exports miss forecasts, but imports up strongly

* Gold heads for flat week after best run since October

By Marc Jones

LONDON, Jan 10 (Reuters) - Euro zone periphery shares sustained their blistering rally on Friday although uncertainty over impending U.S. jobs data cooled the bloc's bonds and imposed caution on most other markets.

Although many investors were happy to bide their time before U.S. payrolls figures at 1330 GMT, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese stocks all pursued this year's rapid gains.

Spanish stocks jumped another 0.9 percent to leave them up over 5.3 percent and on course for their strongest week since last March, while a 0.6 percent rise for Portuguese stocks took their 2014 gains to 8.4 percent.

All three countries' bonds have also enjoyed hefty rallies this week and though there was some small-scale profit taking on Friday, they have retained big gains.

"There has been a huge rally this week, which has been motivated by several factors; first an improvement in mood, and second the favourable liquidity position (due to redemptions)," said Luca Cazzulani, deputy head of fixed income strategy at UniCredit in Milan. "The speed has been a bit faster, but the direction is what we were expecting."

Most traders, however, were already focusing on U.S. non-farm payrolls, which are forecast to have risen by a solid 196,000 in December, according to a Reuters survey of economists, just below November's 203,000. As ever for this volatile series, estimates ranged widely from 120,000 to 235,000.

The overall unemployment rate is expected to stay at 7.0 percent though there was some risk of a higher number should more people rejoin the labour market from unusually low levels.

Investors are not sure whether to be pleased the world's largest economy is recovering, or worried it might bring forward the day when the Federal Reserve starts hiking rates.

This week, futures markets shifted sharply to price in a much earlier start to Fed tightening. Fed fund futures are now fully priced for a hike to 0.5 percent by July 2015. Not long ago the market had been wagering on early 2016.

CHINA MIXED

The hesitancy had been evident on Wall Street on Thursday, though the Dow the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq were all expected to bounce back when trading resumes.

Asian markets had remained soggy overnight after Chinese trade data proved to be a mixed bag. While China's exports grew a little less than expected at 4.3 percent in December from a year earlier, imports easily outpaced forecasts with an increase of 8.3 percent.

The jump in imports could point to stronger domestic demand and a rebalancing away from a reliance on exports to fuel growth, a sea change long desired by policymakers everywhere.

"This indicates that domestic demand is not as soft as had been feared, and the Chinese economy - while decelerating - is unlikely to see a sharp slowdown," said Dariusz Kowalczyk, an economist at Credit Agricole CIB in Hong Kong.

ECB PARTS WAYS WITH FED

In contrast to the Fed, the European Central Bank keeps holding out the prospect of yet more stimulus in the euro zone.

On Thursday, ECB President Mario Draghi underlined his determination to act should deflation become a real risk or rising money rates threaten a fragile recovery.

Renewed upward pressure on the latter was avoided on Friday as despite an enforced year-end break, euro zone banks posted back just 2.6 billion euros of their ultra-cheap ECB LTRO loans, versus 20 billion last time around.

"The ECB's monthly press conference was very dovish in light of the current weakness in euro area inflation," said Dylan Eades, an economist at Australia and New Zealand Bank.

"Draghi left the market in no doubt that the ECB will act again if necessary."

The euro duly fell over half a U.S. cent on Draghi's words, only to meet broad demand around $1.3548 which saw it recoup all the losses. On Friday, it was hovering just below $1.36 with dealers now wary of trying to short the currency.

The focus on Portugal after its rally this week was also intensifying, with rating agency Moody's set to review its Ba3 country rating after European markets close.

Tight ranges held across most other major currencies, with the dollar stuck at 105 yen and the euro at 142.74 yen . Against a basket of currencies the dollar was a whisker stronger at 81.020.

Gold, which last week saw its best week since October, drifted around $1,234 an ounce, while copper, facing a second successive weekly fall, firmed 0.6 percent to $7,253.00 a tonne.

The U.S. jobs data was also the main focus for the oil market. Crude futures bounced to $92.61 a barrel after hitting an eight-month trough at $91.24 overnight. Brent crude edged up 43 cents to $106.82 per barrel.

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