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GLOBAL MARKETS-Shares steady, euro firm as Draghi's views awaited

Source : REUTERS
Last Updated: Thu, Feb 07, 2013 13:20 hrs

* Euro steady after ECB hold rates, as expected

* Draghi comments seen key to sentiment

* European shares , U.S. stocks seen higher

* Brent crude near $118, gold steady at $1,680

By Richard Hubbard

London, Feb 7 (Reuters) - The euro and shares were little changed on Thursday after the European Central Bank left rates steady at its monthly policy meeting as investors awaited president Mario Draghi's views on the region's growth outlook.

U.S. stock futures pointed to modest gains when Wall Street opens, though market participants said much depends on whether the ECB president makes any comments on the level of the euro at a news conference due to begin at 1330 GMT.

The euro held onto the 0.3 percent gains made before the ECB announcement to trade around $1.3570, above this week's low of $1.3458 plumbed but well shy of a 15-month peak of $1.3711 set last Friday.

The currency of the 17-nation bloc has soared by 20 percent against Japan's yen in just three months, risen 8 percent on sterling and 7 percent on the dollar, heightening tensions among policymakers.

"Draghi has to be very careful because it's a very sensitive time in currency markets, and investors will be looking for any hint of the ECB's thinking on this issue," said Ned Rumpeltin, head of G10 FX strategy at Standard Chartered Bank.

"It is probably the wisest path for him to avoid the debate on the currency at this point in time."

At his news conference last month, Draghi read out a G20 statement on exchange rates in which members pledged to avoid competitive devaluations. With another meeting of the group due next week, it's likely he will stick to this line.

Draghi has also pointed out that the euro's trade-weighted index is still down more than 10 percent from its 2009 peaks so may not yet be a significant drag on growth.

Analysts have a rule of thumb calculation that every 3 percent rise in the euro's trade weighted value has the same drag on growth as a half point interest rate hike.

The ECB's pain threshold on the euro has also changed over the last decade. Former President Jean-Claude Trichet used the term "brutal move" in early 2004 when it hit a then-record high of $1.2898, but the last time the central bank showed signs of discomfort was in mid-2011 when it was threatening $1.50.

The ECB left its main interest rate at 0.75 percent.

BRITAIN VIEW

Before the ECB meeting, the first foreigner to run the Bank of England, Canadian Mark Carney, told UK lawmakers he would be reviewing the bank's current monetary policy but said the bar for any change was very high.

Ten-year gilt yields were 3 basis points higher at 2.12 percent and London's FTSE 100 index eased as Carney's comments were seen reaffirming the current policy known as flexible inflation rate targeting as the best way forward.

At its policy meeting being held at the same time, the central bank left rates on hold as expected and left its asset purchase scheme unchanged at 375 billion sterling.

Spanish debt yields meanwhile eased slightly even though the government was forced to pay more to borrow funds at a bond sale as a growing political corruption scandal and concerns over the economy had an impact on buyers.

Demand was still strong at the sale of 4.6 billion euros of new debt and the yields which resulted remain well away from crisis levels.

SHARES STABLE

European shares were choppy but traded within a narrow range after the ECB rate decision having stabilised following sharp losses on Wednesday. The FTSEurofirst 300 index was down 0.2 percent while Paris's CAC-40 rose 0.2 percent and Frankfurt's DAX was 0.35 percent higher.

"The medium and long-term positive trend is still intact, although on the short term, we're turning 'neutral'; indexes are very close to key support levels," said Aurel BGC chartist Gerard Sagnier.

Commodities markets were all trading within tight ranges, with investors' attention firmly fixed on the currency implications of anything the ECB's Draghi might say.

The euro often dictates gold's movements in particular, and ahead of the meeting it had inched up to about $1,680 an ounce .

"Gold is very much dependent on the outcome of the ECB. I don't think today they will give us a clear indication whether the euro is indeed over-valued," said Joyce Liu, an investment analyst at Phillip Futures in Singapore.

"If they try to weaken the euro because the economy hasn't bottomed out, then in that case, it's possible gold may go up a bit."

Brent crude was slightly higher, edging towards $118 per barrel ahead of the ECB meeting.

Brent has gained over the last three weeks as positive data suggested the global economy had turned a corner, which augurs well for fuel demand, while supply worries stemming from tensions in the Middle East have also supported prices.




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