NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stock markets around the world edged higher on Tuesday amid signs of improving growth, even though questions about monetary policy limited gains.
The Dow Jones industrial average and S&P 500 ended at all-time highs, while the dollar rose and gold fell.
The euro was slightly higher, though a slowdown in British inflation sent sterling to a 7-week low on the view it could give the Bank of England more leeway to support the economy. The yen lost ground after a Japanese minister rowed back on remarks suggesting the currency had weakened enough.
In the latest sign of improving sentiment, Goldman Sachs forecast further gains for the S&P 500 this year, expecting it to rise to 1,750 and then to 1,900 by the end of 2014. The benchmark index is currently at 1,670 after gains of 17 percent so far in 2013.
Much of those gains has come on an accommodative monetary policy from the Federal Reserve, which analysts credit with making equities more attractive than other asset classes. The stimulus has pushed many financial markets to their highest levels in years, but in recent weeks Fed officials have started talking more openly about scaling back the central bank’s support.
The usually dovish Chicago Fed President Charles Evans said on Monday that as long as the pick-up in the U.S. jobs market continued, he was “open-minded” about slowing the bank’s bond-buying and mentioned the idea of simply halting it.
Comments like that have made Wednesday’s release of minutes from the U.S. central bank’s last meeting and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke’s testimony in Congress the main focus for markets awaiting the first sign of a clear shift in attitude.
Markets are “nervous” ahead of the testimony, “but not enough to take any action,” said Kim Forrest, senior equity research analyst at Fort Pitt Capital Group in Pittsburgh.
Economists expect Bernanke to deliver a steady message on the bank’s policy. But any hint that it plans to scale back its support could unsettle markets.
“With the economic numbers being pretty good in the States, there may be an easing back of QE (bond-buying stimulus) sooner rather than later,” said Berkeley Futures associate director Richard Griffiths.
The dollar .DXY was up 0.1 percent against a basket of major currencies.
The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI gained 52.30 points, or 0.34 percent, to close at 15,387.58. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index .SPX was up 2.87 points, or 0.17 percent, at 1,669.16. The Nasdaq Composite Index .IXIC was up 5.69 points, or 0.16 percent, at 3,502.12.
U.S. equities were boosted by Home Depot (HD.N), which raised its full-year profit outlook as it benefited from a recovery in the housing market. Its shares rose 2.5 percent to $78.71.
Financial shares were also higher, led by JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM.N), which rose 1.4 percent to $53.02 after shareholders voted in support of Chairman and Chief Executive Jamie Dimon maintaining both roles, rather than splitting them.
Top European shares .FTEU3 ended 0.1 percent higher, extending a rally that took them to five-year highs on Monday. The MSCI all-country world equity index .MIWD00000PUS added 0.2 percent.
If the Fed does tighten policy by slowing its bond-buying, benchmark bond yields would be pushed up. The benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note was up 10/32, the yield at 1.928 percent. Safe-haven German Bund futures lost ground, dropping 0.1 percent.
In Greece, 10-year yields fell below 30-year yields for the first time in three years, popping its bond curve back into a more normal shape in a sign that some are starting to believe the worst may be over for the euro zone’s most troubled economy.
“The perception of investors has changed,” said ING strategist Alessandro Giansanti in Amsterdam. “There has been a change in trend in public finance policies. If the trend of reduction in the deficit continues, we cannot rule out that even next year (Greece) can come back to the market.”
Earlier in the day, Japan's Nikkei share index .N225 crept to a 5-1/2-year high. The yen shed some of Monday's gains after Japan's economy minister said his comments the previous day that the government was satisfied with the level of the currency had been misinterpreted.
A recent slide in precious metals also resumed. Gold was down 1.5 percent as the stronger dollar left it facing its eighth fall in nine sessions. Silver dropped 2.5 percent.
While low inflation prospects have dulled demand for the traditional hedge of gold, silver has fallen out of favor with investors recently as demand from the solar energy sector has also sagged and mining of the metal has increased.
“The market was caught horribly short yesterday, so there was some buying this morning. But the dollar started to get stronger and gold didn’t manage to break above $1,400, so sales started again,” said Marex Spectron head trader David Govett.
U.S. crude oil fell 0.6 percent on caution ahead of Bernanke’s testimony, while Brent crude fell 1 percent.
Additional reporting by Rodrigo Campos; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Dan Grebler and James Dalgleish