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Stocks march on as investors pin hopes on a Greek deal

LONDON: Stocks continued their relentless march higher on Wednesday as investors shrugged off the protracted uncertainty surrounding Greece’s debt negotiations with its creditors, pinning their hopes that a deal will be reached by the end of the week.

The Greek government said it would request a loan extension from its creditors on Wednesday, expected to be for up to six months with conditions yet to be negotiated, and the European Central Bank will announce it won’t cut off emergency funding for Greek banks, a source told Reuters.

Europe’s main bourses followed Asia and Wall Street higher. In early trade the FTSEuroFirst 300 index .FTEU3 of leading European shares was up 0.5 percent at a fresh seven-year high of 1,511 points, and Britain’s FTSE 100 .FTSE rose 0.3 percent to 6,921 points, its highest since January 2000.

“The tone between Greece and other European partners (is) less harsh but an agreement is still far from being reached. We still expect an agreement will be reached before the end of February, but we also see room for volatility until that time,” BNP Paribas said on Wednesday.

France’s CAC 40 .FCHI share index and Germany’s DAX .GDAXI both rose 0.4 percent, while Greek stocks clawed back some of this week’s losses to trade 3 percent higher .ATG. European financials were among the biggest gainers, up 1.7 percent .SX7E.

Earlier in Asia, MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan.MIAPJ0000PUS rose 0.2 percent. The region’s outstanding performers included Indonesian stocks .JKSE, which hit a record high a day after the country’s central bank cut interest rates just three months after hiking them.

Japan’s Nikkei .N225 rose 0.9 percent to its highest since July 2007. There was little reaction to the Bank of Japan’s well-anticipated decision to stand pat on monetary policy and maintain its massive stimulus.

U.S. shares are called to open slightly higher, building on Tuesday’s gains that pushed theS&P 500 .SPX to another record high .SPc1 .DJc1.

EURO HUGS $1.14 HANDLE

The positive tone in equities was mirrored in peripheral euro zone bond markets, where benchmark Italian and Spanish 10-year yields both fell around 5 basis points ES10YT=RR IT10YT=RR. Three-year Greek yields fell around 100 basis points to 17.7 percent GR0029312=TWEB.

Core government bonds were more steady following Tuesday’s selloff, which saw the 10-year U.S. yield rise to a seven-week high of 2.15 percent US10YT=RR. The yield has risen 44 basis points this month.

Investors will look to the minutes of January’s Federal Reserve monetary policy meeting to be released later on Wednesday for signs the central bank is on track to raise interest rates this year, maybe as early as June.

In currencies the euro held onto $1.14 against the dollar EUR=, despite the dollar’s widening interest rate and yield advantage.

“Markets remain confident that a Greek deal will be reached … (and) a positive outcome in Greek talks could help the euro in the near term,” Unicredit currency strategists said in a note to clients on Wednesday.

The dollar hovered around 119.00 yen JPY= after jumping from a low of 118.235 overnight.

Brent crude oil LCOc1 was down 1.1 percent at $61.85 a barrel as the market took a breather after rallying earlier in the week amid threats to Middle East production and a falling U.S. rig count. [O/R]

Brent is up 36 percent from its low of around $45 a barrel barely a month ago.

The fragile ceasefire between Russia and Ukraine kept emerging market investors on edge, with Ukrainian assets in particular coming under heavy pressure.

The country’s sovereign bond yield spread over U.S. Treasuries rose to a record high 3,038 basis points and five-year credit default swaps, essentially the premia investors pay to insure against default, hit a record high 3,669 basis points.

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