GLOBAL MARKETS-Growth worries, central bank hopes keep shares in range

Mon Aug 13, 2012 5:51pm IST

Related Topics

* European shares trade in narrow range as growth concerns mount

* Euro gains 0.6 pct vs dlr but seen vulnerable to selloff

* Market moves capped by prospect of central bank action

* Oil tops $114 a barrel on growing supply worries

By Richard Hubbard

LONDON, Aug 13 (Reuters) - Weak Japanese economic data on Monday added to evidence the global economy is slowing, but stocks and currencies moved within narrow ranges as investors awaited the next steps by the world's major central banks.

U.S. stocks futures were also flat, indicating the S&P 500 index could end a six-day winning streak.

Japan's economy grew just 0.3 percent in April-June from the first quarter, half as much as expected, as Europe's debt crisis weighed on export demand and consumer spending began to lose momentum.

The numbers followed last week's dismal Chinese trade figures and data from Germany showing factory output in Europe's biggest economy had fallen more than expected in June.

"The latest round of global data releases shows that European activity is the main drag on the global economy at present," said Jose Wynne, a foreign exchange strategist at Barclays Capital, in a note.

But with the data not yet bad enough to prompt urgent action from the big central banks, market reaction was limited.

At 322.43 points, the MSCI world equity index had barely moved, having risen 1.65 percent last week, its fourth straight week of gains.

The FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares steadied at 1,099 points, having slipped just 0.1 percent on Friday, though that ended a two-week surge that had lifted the index by 8 percent.

"Markets have run up sharply on hopes that central banks will fire stimulus measures soon, but how soon is now the question on investors' lips," said Ishaq Siddiqi, a market strategist at ETX Capital.

CENTRAL BANK SUPPORT

Falls in equities are not only being limited by hopes of policy easing measures but also by expectations that the ECB will soon unveil details of its plan to tackle the funding pressures on peripheral euro zone nations.

ECB President Mario Draghi raised hopes for fresh intervention two weeks ago when he said the bank was "ready to do whatever it takes to preserve the euro".

This led to speculation the bank would restart its purchases of Spanish and Italian debt to reduce their borrowing costs. However, uncertainty over the timing and details of this aid remains.

But Belgium's ECB member Luc Coene raised concerns over the weekend that any new wave of purchases could once again take the pressure off governments to repair their finances.

And German magazine Der Spiegel quoted Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen on Sunday as saying Finland remained opposed to ECB bond-buying.

"There is no coherent message between politicians and policymakers," said Jeremy Stretch, head of currency strategy at CIBC.

The euro still managed to inch higher, gaining 0.4 percent on the day to $1.2335, though it was well below a one-month high of $1.2444 posted last Monday.

"It's a low-key start to the week ... The market is mindful of ECB risks (the risk of ECB action) but less concerned than it was," said Stretch.

GDP DATA EYED

Markets are now waiting for the first estimate of second quarter growth for the euro area, due on Tuesday, which is likely to confirm the region is contracting after registering no growth at all in the first three months of the year.

Although there is widespread recognition that struggling parts of the 17-country bloc are in for an extended spell of economic gloom, the speculation is that the latest bout of turmoil will push even powerhouse Germany back into recession.

German government bond prices - favoured by risk-averse investors - were slightly easier ahead of the data, with German 10-year yields rising 5 basis points to 1.43 percent.

The prospect that the ECB could resume purchases of short-term Spanish and Italian bonds next month continued to have a soothing effect on the peripheral euro area debt market.

Spain's 10-year yields eased 8 basis points to 6.87 percent , while equivalent Italian yields were 3 basis points lower at 5.87 percent.

However, Italy's one-year borrowing costs inched higher to 2.767 percent at an auction of fresh one-year bills on Monday as uncertainty over when the ECB will act limited demand.

OIL SUPPLY

Evidence of slowing world economic activity would normally have sent Brent crude futures lower but instead concerns over supply have kept prices at a three-month high.

North Sea crude production, which underpins the Brent crude contract, is set to hit a record low. Iranian output has been curbed by sanctions, and an intensification of debate in Israel on whether to go to war with Iran over its nuclear work has added to concern about disruption in Middle East supply.

"The Israeli comments, what you see in Israeli media, is a concern. A major concern," said Ben Le Brun, a Sydney-based market analyst at OptionsXpress.

Brent crude hit its highest level since May 4 at $114.46 a barrel, up $1.29. U.S. oil rose 60 cents to $93.47 a barrel.

Gold prices rose in line with a slightly firmer U.S. dollar, with buyers awaiting clearer signals on the next moves from central banks.

Steps to boost growth, such as quantitative easing - essentially money printing to buy bonds - usually help gold by increasing liquidity, keeping interest rates low and in the longer run fuelling fears of inflation.

Spot gold was up 0.3 percent at $1,624.10 an ounce, while U.S. gold futures for August delivery were up $4.00 an ounce at $1,626.80.

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