* 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 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
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
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 &
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
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
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.