U.S. economic optimism drives bonds lower, oil up

NEW YORK Tue Jan 29, 2013 2:41am IST

1 of 9. Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, January 18, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Brendan McDermid

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. Treasuries prices slipped and crude oil climbed on Monday after a gauge of planned U.S. business spending rose in December, increasing confidence that the recovery in the world's largest economy was gaining traction.

But caution ahead of key data on the U.S. economy and the Federal Reserve's first policy meeting of the year helped keep a lid on Wall Street stocks, although shares of bellwether manufacturer Caterpillar (CAT.N) notched a healthy rise.

Investor optimism got a small boost after rating agency Fitch scaled back the chance it will strip the United States of its AAA status, saying a recent deal on the country's debt limit removed the near-term risk of a downgrade.

But it was the Commerce Department report that set the tone on Monday, with an unexpected rise in December for non-defense capital goods orders excluding aircraft, a closely watched proxy for investment plans. The market had forecast a small drop.

The data on U.S. durable goods helped drive up euro zone blue chip stocks to 18-month peaks .STOXX50E.

"Net-net this report actually winds up being modestly better from a GDP perspective," said Tom Porcelli, chief U.S. economist at RBC Global Markets in New York.

The U.S. government will release its first estimate on fourth-quarter gross domestic product growth on Wednesday.

The benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note was down 6/32, with the yield at 1.9703 percent.

Investors tend to sell lower risk assets such as U.S. government debt when expecting better economic growth.

U.S. Treasuries traded steady at lower price levels on Monday in the wake of an auction of $35 billion of two-year Treasury notes.

CAUTION

On Wall Street, the S&P 500 edged lower on Monday, after rising for eight straight days in its longest winning streak in eight years.

In addition to the Fed's two-day policy meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday and the GDP data, investors are awaiting the government's January labor market report on Friday.

The Nasdaq, however, edged higher as Apple shares rebounded on bargain hunting following a 14.4 percent drop over the previous two session.

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI was down 12.75 points, or 0.09 percent, at 13,883.23 at the unofficial close. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index .SPX was down 2.67 points, or 0.18 percent, at 1,500.29. The Nasdaq Composite Index .IXIC was up 4.59 points, or 0.15 percent, at 3,154.30.

"Markets don't go up in a straight line," said Garry Evans, global head of equity strategy at HSBC In London. "I think that people are realizing there could still be problems out there."

Adding to potential pitfalls ahead were signs from Washington that the $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts due to take effect by March 1 could go ahead, threatening confidence in the U.S. economy.

Fitch said a ratings downgrade was still likely later in the year if Washington failed to use the new breathing space to put in place a credible debt reduction plan.

MSCI's benchmark world share index .MIWD00000PUS was down 0.2 percent on Monday after a nearly 4.5 percent gain this month on signs of economic recovery in the United States, stabilization in the euro zone and accelerating growth in China.

European stocks slipped 0.2 percent, with the broad FTSEurofirst 300 index .FTEU3 of top company shares hovering just under a two-year high.

Banks were the best performing sector in Europe, up 0.6 percent, as investors focused on areas of the market which still look relatively cheap.

EUROPEAN ECONOMY FLAT

Data from the European Central Bank served another reminder that the recent surge in financial markets is not being matched in the real economy.

Lending by banks to euro zone companies, consumers and home buyers contracted in December for an eighth straight month as recessions across much of the region sap the appetite to borrow and banks' willingness to lend.

"As of the end of 2012, there was no sign of improvement in credit flows," said Marie Diron, an economist who works on Ernst & Young's euro zone forecasts in London.

Data showing inflows to global equity funds slowed in the past week and comments from several major investment banks noting signs that the market may be reaching a natural top added to the caution.

The euro was down 0.1 percent against the dollar, after touching an 11-month high on Friday. The prospects of a member country being forced to leave the euro zone have all but vanished since the middle of last year, a survey released on Monday showed.

In commodity markets, Brent oil prices steadied near a three-month high at just over $113 a barrel before the Fed meeting and the U.S. employment data, which is expected to show more signs of recovery in the world's biggest oil consumer.

U.S. light sweet crude oil rose 61 cents, or 0.64 percent, to $96.49 per barrel.

(Reporting by Nick Olivari; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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