Equities hit record as Irma weakens, dollar gains

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A global equity index and the S&P 500 surged to record highs on Monday, spurred by relief that Hurricane Irma weakened to a tropical storm and that North Korea’s anniversary celebrations on the weekend passed without a new missile test.

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Demand slipped for safe-haven assets as investors took on more risk after Irma caused less damage than initially expected and North Korea marked its founding on Saturday without new provocations.

The dollar gained while gold prices fell, as did prices of benchmark German and U.S. Treasury debt.

Ranked as one of the most powerful hurricanes ever recorded in the Atlantic, Irma hit a wide swath of Florida on Sunday. While heavy flooding swamped many cities, including Miami, and millions were left without power, the state’s largest city was spared the brunt of the storm.

“For now, we’re seeing a bit of a relief rally. It does appear that the worst-case scenario for Florida has been evaded,” said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at First Standard Financial in New York.

MSCI's all country world stock index .MIWD00000PUS, which tracks more than 2,400 stocks in 47 countries, hit its latest peak as Europe's insurers rose more than 2 percent .SXIP on hopes Irma's damage would not prove as costly as feared.

The all-country index is up 14.6 percent year-to-date and the S&P 500 has gained 11.2 percent so far this year.

Major indices on Wall Street jumped more than 1 percent. All 11 major S&P sectors rose, led by gains in technology and financial stocks.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI jumped 259.58 points, or 1.19 percent, to 22,057.37. The S&P 500 .SPX gained 26.68 points, or 1.08 percent, to 2,488.11 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC added 72.07 points, or 1.13 percent, to 6,432.26.

Shares of U.S. and European insurers rose, with companies particularly exposed to Florida posting sharp gains as the losses from Irma were seen as less severe than feared.

“Irma is going to be a very costly event but nowhere near what it threatened to do,” said Sandler O’Neill managing director Paul Newsome, who expects insurers to be able to cover losses with earnings from a quarter to a year.

Shares of Florida insurers Heritage Insurance Holdings Inc <HRTG.N,> HCI Group Inc HCI.N and Universal Insurance Holdings Inc UVE.N all rose at least 13 percent or more.

In Europe, shares of reinsurers Swiss Re AG SRENH.S and Scor SE SCOR.PA rose 3 percent or more, and insurers helped drive stock indexes in the region.

The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index .FTEU3 added 1.05 percent to close at 1,491.19 and MSCI's gauge of global stocks .MIWD00000PUS gained 0.87 percent. MSCI's emerging markets index .MSCIEF rose 0.73 percent.

The relief over North Korea and a weaker yen JPY= helped the Tokyo stock market .N225 to its best session since June.

Investors are so focused on the hurricane and the Federal Reserve’s potential monetary tightening that they are missing the enormous boost the weaker dollar and low interest rates will give the U.S. economy, said Jim Paulsen, chief investment strategist at the Leuthold Group in Minneapolis.

“We are massively stimulating this economy that’s already doing pretty well,” Paulsen said. “That’s likely to accelerate an already-good economy even further the next 12 months.”

The dollar index .DXY, which tracks the greenback against a basket of six major currencies, was up 0.66 percent at 91.955.

The index had hit a more than 2-1/2-year low of 91.011 on Friday as investors fretted about the short-term impact of Irma on the U.S. economy and simmering tensions with North Korea.

The euro EUR= fell 0.67 percent to $1.1952 against the greenback, while the Japanese yen weakened 1.52 percent at 109.47 per dollar.

Germany’s benchmark 10-year bond yield pulled further away from recent 2-1/2 month lows and yields on benchmark U.S. Treasury debt rose from 10-month lows.

The 10-year U.S. Treasury note US10YT=RR last fell 21/32 in price to yield 2.134 percent, up from 2.061 percent late on Friday.

German Bunds DE10YT=RR last fell 2 basis points in price to yield 0.336 percent.

Oil prices rose as the upward pressure from U.S. refinery restarts and Saudi talks to extend production cuts outweighed demand fears driven by Irma’s continued pounding of Florida.

Losses were capped by weekend talks between Saudi Arabia’s energy minister and counterparts over a possible extension to a pact to cut global oil supplies beyond next March.

Brent crude oil futures for November delivery LCOc1 settled up 6 cents at $53.84 a barrel, while benchmark U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude CLc1 rose by 59 cents to $48.07.

Spot gold XAU= dropped 1.4 percent to $1,327.40 an ounce. U.S. gold futures GCcv1 fell about 1.3 percent to settle at $1,335.70 an ounce.

Reporting by Herbert Lash, additional reporting by Sruthi Shankar in Bengaluru; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Dan Grebler