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GLOBAL MARKETS-European stocks touch 2012 high as ECB eyed

Source : REUTERS
Last Updated: Thu, Dec 06, 2012 12:30 hrs

* Europe's FTSEurofirst 300 index up 0.4 pct, off 2012 high

* Markets await ECB president's comments on policy outlook

* Euro slides back from 7-week high against dollar

* Oil, gold steady, cautious ahead of U.S. jobs report

By Richard Hubbard

LONDON, Dec 6 (Reuters) - European stocks touched a high for the year on Thursday while the euro steadied as investors awaited the outcome of a European Central Bank policy meeting for signs of any future rate cuts.

The ECB is expected to keep its benchmark rate at 0.75 percent but will probably slash its growth outlook for 2013, prompting some in the market to presume President Mario Draghi will signal a bias towards future policy easing.

"I'm not convinced at this stage that the door is open to a further rate cut," said Peter Dixon, global equities economist at Commerzbank. If the central bank were to ease next year it would be via liquidity measures such as bond buying, he added.

The prospect of more support from Europe's central bank, signs of gathering momentum in China's giant economy and the modest recovery in the United States have encouraged demand in the world's main equity markets ahead of the new year.

The MSCI world equity index, which has gained over 11 percent so far this year, added 0.25 percent to 333.75 points, helped by big gains in Asian shares outside Japan , which have reached 16-month highs.

In Europe the FTSEurofirst 300 index of top companies hit a 2012 high of 1,132.79 points in early trade, before edging back to be up 0.4 percent. London's FTSE 100 , Paris's CAC-40 and Frankfurt's DAX were as much as 0.8 percent higher.

"The momentum is positive for equity markets, which remain cheap compared with credit and government bonds," said Frederic Jamet, head of management at State Street Global Advisors France.

However, the lack of any progress in Washington at talks among politicians to avoid the "fiscal cliff" of spending cuts and tax rises starting in January is limiting the gains.

U.S. stock index futures pointed to a higher open on Wall Street on Thursday, boosted by hopes a budget deal will be reached before the year-end.

Financial markets were reassured on Wednesday when President Barack Obama said a deal was possible in "about a week" if Republicans compromise on taxes. No side has yet made any concessions.

The lack of a breakthrough supported safe-haven government bonds, keeping German Bund futures within tight ranges. Ten-year U.S. Treasury yields were hovering near a three-week low at 1.59 percent.

EUROPE WEAKNESS

The euro, which hit a seven-week high of $1.3127 on Wednesday, traded at $1.3060, barely changed on the day.

"We've seen something of a reversal in confidence," said Jeremy Stretch, head of currency strategy at CIBC World Markets.

"Looking ahead, the ECB is unlikely to cut rates but most likely to underline the ongoing weakness in the euro zone economy. Confirmation that the euro zone remains in recession is certainly not providing any underlying support for the euro."

The Bank of England left its policy unchanged on Thursday, a month after completing its latest quantitative easing programme, as sticky inflation outweighed worries over a sluggish economy.

Ahead of the outcome of the ECB meeting, French long-term bond yields fell at its first debt sale since Moody's downgraded the euro zone's No. 2 economy last month, as investors continued to seek the liquidity and safety of the French market.

Riskier Italian and Spanish government bond yields rose as investors' recent enthusiasm for peripheral debt fades following a disappointing auction by Madrid on Wednesday.

In crude oil and other commodity markets gains were being checked by niggling worries about the growth outlook for the global economy ahead of Friday's release of the U.S. non-farm payrolls report for November.

Three-month copper on the London Metal Exchange was down 0.1 percent at $8,065 a tonne, reversing gains from the previous session when it hit its highest since Oct. 19.

Data from Asia on Thursday added to the uncertainty about the prospect for future demand. South Korea's central bank said that growth this year in Asia's fourth-largest economy would probably fall below its 2.4-percent target.

U.S. crude futures rose 3 cent to $87.91 a barrel, while Brent was down 3 cents at $108.76.

"Overall, the markets are weak with the global economic concerns and will be trapped in a range until the U.S. 'fiscal cliff' issue is behind us," said Tony Nunan, an oil risk manager with Mitsubishi Corp in Tokyo.

Spot gold was around $1,693.00 an ounce, near the one-month low of $1,684.40 that it hit on Wednesday after a weaker price forecast by Goldman Sachs.



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