GLOBAL MARKETS-Ukraine, China fears weigh on stocks; euro hits 2-1/2-yr high

Thu Mar 13, 2014 1:03pm EDT

* Global stock index edges down with U.S. equities

* Ukraine crisis, China slowdown and copper rout sap risk appetite

* Russian shares slide to lowest since September 2009

By Caroline Valetkevitch

NEW YORK, March 13 (Reuters) - World stock indexes slipped on Thursday, hit by rising concerns from tensions surrounding Russia's standoff over Ukraine and worries about the pace of Chinese growth, while the euro hit a new 2-1/2-year high against the dollar.

Copper added to its recent losses on the dimmer outlook for China, which accounts for 40 percent of global refined copper demand. The metal hit a four-year low at $6,376.25 per tonne on Wednesday.

Growth in China's industrial output came in below forecasts for the combined January/February period, with retail sales also weaker than expected, stoking worries growth there could slow as Beijing pushes for economic reforms.

Investors were also increasingly worried over the trajectory of the crisis in Ukraine. Russia said it had started military exercises near the border with Ukraine, in what is likely to be seen as a show of force in the standoff with the West over the Crimea peninsula.

Meanwhile, the German foreign minister said all attempts to de-escalate the situation in Crimea have been rejected by Russia.

Media in Warsaw reported U.S. F-16 fighter jets landed at central Poland's Lask air base to take part in military exercises, which was seen as Washington's gesture of support for its eastern NATO allies after Russia's intervention in Ukraine.

"These hot spots are still of concern to people, the Ukraine and China being wobbly," said Stephen Massocca, managing director, at Wedbush Equity Management LLC in San Francisco.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 150.29 points or 0.92 percent, to 16,189.79, the S&P 500 lost 15.18 points or 0.81 percent, to 1,853.02 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 47.801 points or 1.11 percent, to 4,275.531.

Better-than-expected data on retail sales and the labor market helped to limit losses. U.S. retail sales rebounded in February and new applications for unemployment benefits hit a fresh three-month low last week.

The MSCI global stock market index was down 0.3 percent, while the pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 was down 0.7 percent.

Russia's RTS stock index, down 2 percent, fell to its lowest since September 2009, while five-year credit default swaps rose 14 basis points to their highest since June 2012.

The euro climbed in the wake of the European Central Bank's avoidance of further stimulus, signalling some confidence the region has put recession and its debt crisis behind.

The euro reached $1.3967, just under psychological resistance at $1.40. It was last up 0.2 percent at $1.3935 .

The euro zone economy seems to be picking up steam and investors are betting the ECB will not ease policy further to counter deflation risks, even though ECB policymaker Benoit Coeure reiterated the bank's readiness to act if real interest rates did not fall.

"The policy messages and data support the euro and we think that will allow it to continue to push higher from here," Ian Stannard, a strategist at Morgan Stanley in London, said.

COPPER'S DECLINE

Three-month copper on the London Metal Exchange (LME) traded at $6,461 a tonne in official rings, down 0.7 percent from a close of $6,505 on Wednesday. Prices hit a 44-month low of $6,376.25 in intraday trade on Wednesday before recovering at the close to post their first daily gain since Friday.

Chinese funds taking massive short positions played a powerful role in copper's slide this week, signalling the growing force of the sector in global commodities markets.

After a tumble in copper of around 7.5 percent so far this month, investors are worried about a possible unravelling of Chinese loan deals using the metal - whose many industrial uses make it sensitive to global economic health - as collateral.

"The China economy is slowing quite sharply, in our view ... (although) the lack of inflation and slowing growth does open the door for policy easing," Gerard Lane, equity strategist at Shore Capital, said in a note.

Geopolitical tensions supported the U.S. bond market. The benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note last traded with a yield of 2.669 percent, down from late Wednesday when the yield was at 2.726 percent. Bond yields move inversely to their prices.

GOLD OFF HIGHS, OIL MIXED

Gold prices retreated from six-month highs after the stronger-than-expected U.S. data.

Spot gold was little changed at $1,367.24 an ounce versus $1,366.58 late on Wednesday. U.S. gold futures for April delivery were down $2.50 an ounce at $1,368.

Earlier, gold had risen to its highest since Sept. 10, due to fears the Ukraine situation could escalate, worries over the Chinese economy and a drop in the dollar against the euro.

In the energy market, European benchmark Brent crude oil was down 26 cents at $107.76 a barrel, while U.S. crude futures were up 15 cents at $98.14.

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