G20 in focus, weak Europe dampens world shares
LONDON (Reuters) - The yen rose on Friday as the Group of 20 struggled to find a common stance on recent currency moves, while renewed fears over global growth weighed on shares and commodities.
The meeting in Moscow of finance officials from the Group of 20 nations, which account for 90 percent of the world's economy, is set to be dominated by sparring over the motives behind expansive economic policies that have driven currency moves.
Uncertainty over the meeting's outcome saw traders cut short yen positions on Friday, sending the Japanese unit up 0.5 percent against the dollar to 92.40 yen and the euro down to a two-week low of 123.10 yen.
At issue is whether the loose monetary and fiscal policies of the United States, Japan, Britain and the euro zone amount to strategies of "competitive devaluation" or currency manipulation intended to boost exports and growth.
Attention has focused mostly on Japan, where the new government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has appeared to specifically target a weaker yen to stimulate the economy.
But European political leaders have also raised possibility of political interference in exchange rate policy with French President Francois Hollande last week calling for a medium-term target for the euro.
The Group of Seven rich powers - four big EU economies, Japan, the United States and Canada - weighed in to the debate this week by reaffirming a shared commitment to market-determined exchange rates, but some quickly undermined the united front with off-the-record briefings critical of Japan.
"There is an issue of 'who started the fire?' You can say that Japan is getting really aggressive but then they might say, 'well, what have the Americans done?', 'what about the British?' and so on," said William De Vijlder, chief investment officer at BNP Paribas Investment Partners.
An apparently frustrated European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said in Moscow on Friday all the loose talk on currencies was "inappropriate, fruitless and self-defeating".
The conflicting comments have put the spotlight on the G20's final communique which currency markets will scrutinise to determine whether to resume the current trend for a weaker yen and stronger euro.
Traders is the yen were also closely watching developments in Tokyo where premier Abe was said to be close to selecting his nominee for Bank of Japan governor. A decision could come in the next few days, sources told Reuters.
Shares were broadly flat with the pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index little changed at 1,163.68 points following dismal gross domestic product data from across the euro zone on Thursday.
Frankfurt's DAX and London's FTSE were also little changed while Paris's CAC-40 gained 0.3 percent.
The surprisingly sharp contraction in the region's economy during the final three months of 2012 has undermined hopes of an early recovery from recession, though it has also boosted talk that the European Central Bank may have to ease further.
European shares have risen strongly from a low point last June, buoyed by an ECB pledge of new measures to tackle the region's economic problems, and any fall back in prices is expected to be temporary.
"There is some scepticism out there that February is not going to be a great month, but I think there's more room to run. The momentum is still intact," said Terry Torrison, managing director at Monaco-based McLaren Securities.
The weaker outlook for demand implied by the both the euro zone GDP data and weak growth in Japan sent Brent crude under $118 a barrel and on course for its first weekly loss since mid-January.
Front-month Brent futures fell 30 cents to $117.70 a barrel.
The gyrations in the currency market, which have strengthened the dollar versus the euro, sent gold to a six-month low of $1,625.44 an ounce on Friday. The metal is headed for its biggest weekly drop since June, down 2.4 percent.
(Additional reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta in London; Editing by David Stamp and Alastair Macdonald)
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