GLOBAL MARKETS-Shares hit 2-week highs on upbeat U.S. data, Ukraine calm

Wed Mar 26, 2014 9:19am EDT

* Wall Street expected to start higher after solid durable goods data

* European, Asian shares at two-week high as tensions fade

* Rouble hits month high as threat of sanctions diminishes

* Euro down, bonds up after ECB easing talk

* Emerging-market stocks rise, gold steadies

By Marc Jones

LONDON, March 26 (Reuters) - European and Asian shares climbed to two-week highs on Wednesday, with investor confidence getting a boost from upbeat U.S. data, talk of fresh central bank stimulus and diminishing concern over Ukraine.

After a difficult few weeks in which tension between Russia and the West amplified jitters about the Chinese economy and U.S. interest rates, investors appear to be regaining their composure.

Wall Street was expected to open higher for a second day running, as a rise in durable goods figures joined reassuring readings on consumer confidence and the housing market. A PMI report is due at 1345 GMT.

European stocks, meanwhile, were establishing a second day of gains. London's FTSE rose 0.5 percent, Germany's DAX 1.5 percent and France's CAC 1.1 percent. Several key emerging markets also rose.

The economic data from the U.S. over the last week has bolstered the view that softness earlier this year was caused by bad weather, not inherent economic weakness.

Risk appetite has also been strengthened by perceptions that tension over Ukraine is easing. U.S. President Barack Obama and his allies agreed on Tuesday to hold off on economic sanctions unless Moscow goes beyond the seizure of Crimea.

Investor relief was palpable in Russia. Moscow's main stock market rallied more than 2 percent and the rouble firmed to pre-Crimea-crisis levels a day after its biggest gain in 1 1/2 years.

"Looking at Ukraine, it doesn't fell like a systemic risk at the moment," said Neil Williams, chief economist at London-based fund manager Hermes.

DIVERGING TO EMERGING

The MSCI emerging equities index saw its biggest rise in almost three weeks, helped by the recovery in Russian stocks and in Poland and Hungary. Both had been hit by the recent turbulence.

Despite the uncertainty of local elections this weekend, Turkish stocks jumped almost 3 percent. Indian shares also reached a record high and the rupee rose to its highest in eight months on hopes of a rebound in foreign investment.

"We are seeing some consolidation in emerging markets," said Thu Lan Nguyen, an emerging FX strategist at Commerzbank in Frankfurt. "This has a lot to do with global risk sentiment on the back of the situation in Ukraine and the conflict with Russia. People are somewhat relieved the sanctions have not escalated."

Among the major currencies, the focus was on what appears to be an increasingly divergent outlook for monetary policy in the U.S. on one hand and Europe and Japan on the other.

The euro softened to $1.3794 against a broadly stronger dollar and the region's bonds saw their yields fall. Both were being pushed down by Tuesday's talk of unconventional easing by some of the European Central Bank's normally more conservative members.

The dollar got an extra push as James Bullard, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, bolstered last week's suggestion from the Fed that U.S. rates may rise in spring next year, saying in Hong Kong the U.S. outlook was "quite good."

CHINA

Despite this week's rebounds, world shares are heading for their worst start to a year since the early days of the global financial crisis in 2008.

Hopes that Beijing will take steps to bolster its economy underpinned Chinese shares and many markets linked to China on Wednesday. Brazil and Australia were among the beneficiaries, along with a host of commodities.

Following a recent run of disappointing data, many economists now expect China's growth to miss the government's target of 7.5 percent this year in the absence of effective support measures.

Mainland Chinese shares dipped slightly overnight but remained not far from a one-month high, even as rumours of insolvency led to a run on small banks.

"Investors are betting on stimulus because Chinese authorities have done everything they could to achieve the target in the past," said Sho Aoyama, senior market analyst at Mizuho Securities.

The Australian dollar rose to a four-month high of $0.9241 . Other major currencies were stuck in well-worn ranges, with the yen changing hands at 102.40 yen to the dollar.

Precious metals steadied. They had lost some of their allure over the last week as concern over Ukraine declined and U.S. short-term rates rose. Gold climbed back to $1,311.60 per ounce from a five-week low of $1,305.59 on Tuesday. Silver recovered from a seven-week low to $19.98 per ounce. (Additional reporting by Alistair Smout in London and Hideyuki Sano in Tokyo; Editing by Larry King)

A couple walks along the rough surf during sunset at Oahu's North Shore, December 26, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

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