Global shares, oil prices firm as China data improves
LONDON (Reuters) - European and Asian shares edged higher on Friday and oil prices rebounded as China's economy showed more signs of stabilising.
However, U.S. stock index futures pointed to a lower open on Wall Street where uncertainty over when the Federal Reserve will start to reduce its stimulus efforts left investors few reasons to buy with equity prices near record levels.
The run of upbeat Chinese data in the past two days has helped to ease investor concerns that a sharp slowdown in the world's second-biggest economy could derail global growth.
"It appears that concerns about more of a slowdown than you might have wanted in China have gone away a little which ... is broadly reassuring," Ian Williams, equity strategist at Peel Hunt, said.
China said factory output rose 9.7 percent in July, beating forecasts, and retail sales grew 13.2 percent while inflation held steady. The data added to Thursday's trade figures showing exports from the Chinese economy running at a surprisingly strong pace.
The promising numbers lifted Brent oil above $107 a barrel, a day after it hit the lowest levels in more than a month. The commodity-linked Australian dollar also stretched its recent gains by 0.5 percent to trade at 91.5 U.S. cents.
Asian shares outside Japan were up 0.1 percent with stock indexes in Shanghai and Shenzhen recording their best week in a month.
A pickup in British exports for June and signs of a rebound in Germany's mighty industrial sector in the second quarter added to the region's brighter prospects, helping Europe's broad FTSE Eurofirst 300 index rise 0.1 percent by midday.
But a European recovery remains uncertain with France reporting a fall in factory production in July.
Some of the Eurofirst 300's gains also came from a 15 percent rise in Dutch telecom firm KPN (KPN.AS) after Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim made a $9.6 billion bid for the 70 percent of the group he does not already own.
As a result, MSCI's world equity index was only a few points higher and remains on course for its first weekly decline since late June when speculation of an early end to the Fed's stimulus programme surfaced.
Talk about when the Fed will begin cutting back on the $85 billion a month it spends to buy bonds to help the economy still dominates the markets.
Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher reiterated on Thursday that the central bank remained open to trimming its bond purchases from September if economic data keeps improving, and there was no fresh information due on Friday that would help clarify the situation.
The uncertainty has left the dollar languishing near its weakest levels in nearly two months against a basket of other major currencies, while the euro has risen to a seven-week high of $1.3370.
"The market was very long of U.S. dollars assuming the Fed would taper sooner rather than later, and the Fed has pushed back against that," said Jane Foley, senior currency strategist at Rabobank.
The softer tone to the dollar has been led by an easing of yields on U.S. government debt as buyers returned amid the uncertainty over the Fed's plans. The 10-year Treasury note yielded around 2.586 percent not far from the 2.573 percent level hit on Thursday, its lowest since July 31, according to Reuters data.
The uncertainty over the outlook for U.S. monetary policy has also taken its toll on the gold price, which has eased back below $1,310 an ounce.
"With one obvious news story being discussed all the time, which is the progress towards, or lack of progress towards, tapering, there is an awful lot of opportunity for nervous investors to wait before choosing which side to bet on for gold," Mitsui Precious Metals analyst David Jollie said.
(Additional reporting by Tricia Wright and Jan Harvey; Editing by Susan Fenton)
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