GLOBAL MARKETS-Stocks rise on Ukraine diplomacy, ECB easing speculation

Thu Mar 6, 2014 4:12am EST

* Stocks rise on efforts to resolve Ukraine crisis, ECB

* Emerging stocks rise nearly 1 percent

* Euro steady, speculation ECB will ease policy

By Nigel Stephenson

LONDON, March 6 (Reuters) - World shares rose on Thursday, supported by diplomatic efforts to cool the crisis in Ukraine, while the euro held steady on speculation the European Central Bank would ease monetary policy later in the day.

The ECB was expected to keep interest rates on hold but loosen lending conditions to ward off the threat of excessively low inflation and support the euro zone's fragile economic recovery.

European shares rose, following gains in Asia.

The euro held steady against the dollar, having earlier slipped to its lowest this month.

Emerging stocks and currencies were broadly higher as diplomatic talks to moderate the crisis in Ukraine were set to continue, having made little apparent progress on Wednesday.

European Union leaders meeting in Brussels on Thursday were set to warn but not sanction Russia, whose forced have seized control of Ukraine's Crimea region, diplomats said.

"The worst case scenario on Ukraine has been avoided but clearly discussion will continue for some time and there is scope for instability in Ukraine for the time being," said Nick Stamenkovic, a bond strategist at RIA Capital Markets in Edinburgh.

European stocks rose, with the FTSEurofirst 300 index up 0.43 percent. MSCI's world equity index , which tracks shares in 45 countries, was up 0.3 percent and its emerging market index was up 0.8 percent. Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.8 percent, with Taiwanese shares at a 2 1/2-year high.

Wall Street shares closed barely changed on Wednesday. The S&P 500 index ended the day a hair's breadth below Wednesday's record closing high.

With investors' immediate fears of military confrontation reduced, attention shifted to what action the ECB might take.

On Wednesday, International Monetary Fund officials called on the ECB to start buying public and private assets or extend more cheap long-term loans to banks, as well as cutting interest rates to a new record low.

Yet the ECB may hesitate to buy government bonds, unlike other major central banks such as the U.S. Federal Reserve and the Bank of Japan, in part for fear such a step could violate its ban on financing governments directly.

Other options include cutting rates or, more likely, stopping "sterilisation" operations that soak up the money it spent buying the bonds of Greece and other countries at the height of the euro zone sovereign debt crisis.

"If there is no rate cut today, we expect serious dovish talking from (ECB President Mario) Draghi in addition to any 'softer' action," Commerzbank strategists said in a note.

The euro traded at $1.3727, almost flat on the day, having fallen as low $1.3707 earlier and off a two-month high of $1.38255 hit on Friday.

With tension over Ukraine reduced, the dollar strengthened versus the safe-haven yen. It was last up about half a percent at 102.79 yen.

DOLLAR INDEX

This helped lift the dollar index, which measures the greenback against a currency basket. It was last up 0.1 percent at 80.188, off a two-month low of 79.688 hit on Friday.

German Bund futures fell and cash bond yields rose . U.S. Treasury prices fell, with 10-year notes yielding 2.71 percent, up 1.4 basis points, largely ignoring soft U.S. jobs data.

A report from payrolls processor ADP showed private employment rose by a tepid 139,000 jobs last month, with jobs growth in January revised down sharply to 127,000 from 175,000.

The more important U.S. non-farm payrolls report for February is scheduled for release on Friday.

Gold traded in a right range with investors awaiting cues from the U.S. jobs data and developments in Ukraine. It last stood at $1,333.50 an ounce. Brent crude futures held steady at $107.70 a barrel.

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