GLOBAL MARKETS-Stocks rise, dollar mixed after recent U.S. data

Fri Feb 21, 2014 4:02pm EST

* Stocks push higher as recent data underpins sentiment

* Gains in France lead European stocks higher

* Dollar firms versus yen, euro steady

* Oil price slips below $110 a barrel

By Herbert Lash

NEW YORK, Feb 21 (Reuters) - Global equity markets mostly rose and the dollar traded mixed on Friday as investors warmed to recent data that has underpinned hopes for sustained U.S. economic strengthening even as new data showed home resales fell to an 18-month low last month.

Cold weather and a lack of housing stock sidelined potential home buyers in January, the National Association of Realtors said on Friday, in the latest report indicating severe winter weather has dragged on economic growth.

Home sales dropped 5.1 percent to an annual rate of 4.62 million units, the lowest level since July 2012, the trade group said. Economists polled by Reuters had expected sales to fall to a 4.68 million pace last month.

Major equity indexes in Europe and across the Americas rose, with a measure of global equity activity, MSCI's all-country world index, rising 0.39 percent.

"Markets have come to accept that the U.S. economy is growing moderately and that inflation should remain tame. This is a good combo for stocks and other risk assets," said Steven Einhorn, vice chairman of hedge fund Omega Advisors Inc.

Corporate results also helped lift equity markets.

Priceline.com Inc jumped 2.93 percent to $1,320.54, and was one of the S&P 500's biggest gainers. The online travel booking company reported results that beat expectations after Wednesday's market close.

Hewlett Packard Co's results also topped expectations, and the computer maker raised its 2014 profit view, though shares dipped 1.1 percent to $29.87.

Of the 441 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported earnings so far for last year's fourth quarter, 65.3 percent have beaten analyst expectations, according to Thomson Reuters. Since 1994, 63 percent of companies have beaten estimates.

"I would say that the market is back to a presumption that everything is OK," said Brad McMillan, chief investment officer at Commonwealth Financial.

"The Fed's minutes highlight that they think the U.S. economy is going well, maybe better than well, earnings have turned out better than expected, and Europe continues to inch along. What's not to like?" he said.

Minutes released on Wednesday from the Federal Reserve's most recent meeting showed that policymakers generally "anticipated that the economy would expand at a moderate pace in coming quarters."

The S&P 500 pared gains and the Dow retreated late in the session. Both gauges traded near breakeven.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 1.59 points, or 0.01 percent, to 16,131.64. The S&P 500 gained 0.01 points to 1,839.79 and the Nasdaq Composite added 2.841 points, or 0.07 percent, to 4,270.386.

In Europe, the FTSEurofirst 300 index of top regional shares closed up 0.32 percent to 1,343.12 points, led by a 0.59 percent rise in France's CAC 40 index to a 5-1/2-year high.

A recent trend of companies in France delivering decent profits and better outlooks, in contrast to last year when a weak economy hit earnings and caused the CAC to underperform, has lifted the French benchmark.

French-listed oil services group Technip and construction firm Saint-Gobain rose 2.50 percent and 3.77 percent, respectively, as banks lifted their target prices for the stocks after they reported results earlier in the week.

"Many are calling the French economy the sick man of Europe, but people are buying the future. France has so much potential to improve," Markus Huber, senior sales trader at Peregrine & Black, said.

The dollar retreated against a basket of currencies, but was on track for its first weekly gain in three weeks. The dollar index fell 0.05 percent to 80.242. Against the yen, the dollar edged up 0.26 percent to 102.53 yen.

The euro rose 0.18 percent to $1.3743.

Brent crude oil slipped below $110 a barrel.

Domestic conflicts in Libya and south Sudan, as well as escalating protests in Venezuela, have helped support spot oil prices at a time when winter heating demand in the northern hemisphere is close to its peak.

Brent crude futures for April settled down 45 cents at $109.85 a barrel. U.S. crude futures for April delivery fell 55 cents to settle at $102.20.

Bond investors, as often is the case, were a bit more skeptical about the economic outlook.

"We have not been trading particularly well in the face of soft data prior to today," said David Ader, an interest rate strategist at CRT Capital.

"We know the data is weather impacted, and it will continue to be weather impacted for many weeks, so I do not think they will be able to sell off much in the wake of all that data."

U.S. government bond prices rose, with the 10-year note up 4/32 in price to yield 2.7373 percent.

U.S. COMEX gold futures for April delivery settled up $6.70 an ounce at $1,323.60, with trading volume about 40 percent below its 30-day average, preliminary Reuters data showed.

In Europe, Spanish and Italian bond yields fell back toward eight-year lows in a broad-based rally in euro zone debt as uncertainty over the bloc's growth outlook bolstered expectations of further monetary easing by the European Central Bank.

German 10-year yields were down 36 basis points at 1.658 percent. Bund futures rose 0.42 ticks to settle at 143.87 euros.

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