* Apple's disappointing result to undermine U.S. stocks
LONDON, Jan 24 (Reuters) - World shares and commodities
struggled to make headway on Thursday despite news of a pickup
in Chinese factory activity as a mixed picture on Europe's
outlook and Apple's disappointing earnings made investors wary.
MSCI's world equity index hovered near a
20-month high but was unchanged on the day, while Europe's FTSE
Eurofirst 300 index stayed within the 10-point range it
has seen since nearing two-year highs at the start of the year.
"Equities are trading sideways, capped by mixed earnings and
conflicting messages out of Europe," Matt Basi, senior sales
trader at CMC Markets, said.
U.S. stock index futures pointed to a weak day ahead after
Apple's revelation that revenues had missed forecasts
for the third straight quarter saw its shares slide nearly 10
percent in after-hours trading on Wednesday.
Business surveys released on Thursday showed growth in
Chinese manufacturing accelerated to a two-year high in January,
and a buoyant Germany was leading the euro zone toward recovery
but also revealed France was sliding back into recession.
Data to be reported later from the United States is expected
to show factory activity there eased, after production hit a
seven-month high in December.
For the euro zone as whole January's flash euro zone
purchasing managers index (PMI) pointed to more weakness ahead
for a region already mired in recession, but also fuelled hopes
the downturn could end by the middle of the year.
The index, which has been below the 50 mark that separates
growth from contraction in all but one of the last 17 months,
jumped to 48.2 from December's 47.2, beating expectations for a
more modest rise to 47.5.
"At this stage the trajectory counts more than the absolute
level, and here the main story is that the pace of recession is
clearly easing," said Marco Valli, chief euro zone economist at
However, analysts were drawn to the contrasting fortunes of
Germany and France within the data, which showed German activity
at its strongest levels for a year while the French PMI had
fallen to its lowest level since March 2009.
"The current gap between the German and French composite PMI
indices is unprecedented," said Ken Wattret, chief euro zone
economist at BNP Paribas.
"The differences in the fiscal position, labour market and
competitiveness, for example, are increasingly evident in the
The diverging fortunes of Europe's two biggest economies
lifted German bond prices to a three-week high, a move supported
by Spanish figures showing another record high unemployment rate
and a rising tide of bad bank loans.
French bonds themselves were seemingly unaffected by the
data, with the 10-year bond yield 2 basis points lower on the
day at 2.11 percent..
Meanwhile investors in British stocks shrugged off worries
about Europe and focused on the better Chinese data and its
implications for mining companies, which sent London's FTSE 100
up by 0.35 percent at midday.
China's HSBC flash purchasing managers' index (PMI) rose to
51.9 in January to a two-year high, signalling a rebound in
manufacturing activity and confirming a recovery in growth in
the world's second-largest economy was on track.
The growing confidence in the pace of China's economic
recovery boosted by the latest PMI data helped keep oil
above $112 a barrel, copper broadly steady at $8,083 a tonne
, while gold drifted down to $1,677.40 an ounce.
Market participants are also waiting for a U.S. Federal
Reserve policy meeting next week, which could shed light on the
future of its ultra-loose monetary policy.
"We have the FOMC (Federal Open Market Committee) and
non-farm payrolls data, which could shake this market out of its
technical trading doldrums," said a Singapore-based metals
In the currency markets, the mixed euro zone PMI data left
the region's common currency little changed against the dollar
at $1.3325, to be not far from $1.3404, the 11-month high
hit on Jan. 14.
"The euro dipped on French numbers and was up on the German
data. On the whole there is positive sentiment for the euro but
we need more hard data to lift euro above $1.34," said Niels
Christensen, FX strategist at Nordea.
Analysts said an influential German Ifo survey due on Friday
along with an announcement on how much of the loans taken by
banks from the European Central Bank a year ago they plan to
repay would sway the euro in the coming days.
The euro and the dollar did gain steadily against the yen
because the Japanese currency continued to weaken from the
pressure being applied by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the Bank
of Japan to ease monetary policy.
Abe said on Thursday he expected the Bank of Japan to
achieve a new 2 percent inflation goal, announced earlier this
week, as soon as possible.
After the comments the dollar rose 1.15 percent to hit a
high of 89.65 yen, pulling away from a one-week low of
88.06 yen hit the previous day, while the euro rose 1.25 percent
to hit 119.44 yen..