* Stocks hold near highs as markets digest Fed minutes
* Policymakers see rate hike "fairly soon" but uncertainty
* Dollar drifts down, euro, sterling bob high
* Oil jumps on lower U.S. crude stocks
* Copper, other metals, drop and weigh on miner shares
* Graphic: World FX rates in 2017 tmsnrt.rs/2egbfVh
By Marc Jones and Nigel Stephenson
LONDON, Feb 23 World stocks held near record
highs on Thursday and the dollar scuttled sideways after minutes
of the latest U.S. Federal Reserve meeting showed policymakers
in no rush to raise interest rates.
Treasury and euro zone government bond yields fell or held
steady too as ECB policymakers also signalled they weren't
getting carried away by signs the euro zone economy is gathering
A U.S. rate hike next month remains a slim prospect, with
futures pricing in only an 18 percent chance, according to the
CME Group's FedWatch tool, and Wall Street, like the dollar,
looked set for a subdued session.
The pan-European STOXX 600 stocks index was
treading water close to 14-month highs touched on Tuesday. A 4
percent fall in miner Rio Tinto and a fall of nearly 5
percent in EasyJet, which were among companies whose
shares went ex-dividend, weighed on the index.
Miners bored lower too as industrial metals like
copper and nickel fell in the commodities market in contrast to
a near $1 dollar or 1.75 percent rise in oil prices.
"The growth pattern (in Europe) is still very much
conditional on a substantial degree of (ECB) accommodation," the
euro zone central bank's chief economist Peter Praet said in
London. "These economies are still fundamentally fragile, so 'no
complacency' is the main message."
MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan
had edged up 0.2 percent, having hit its highest
level since July 2015 at one point during the day.
MSCI's 46-country All World index also
nudged higher and was within half a point of Wednesday's record
The Fed minutes overnight showed many policymakers believed
it may be appropriate to raise rates "fairly soon" if jobs and
inflation data met expectations. But they also highlighted deep
uncertainty over President Donald Trump's economic programme.
That helped support many economists and traders' view that
the Fed will make the move in June or May at the earliest.
The dollar dallied, with an early prod higher failing to
hold and turning into a 0.1 percent dip against a basket of
major currencies for a second day running.
The euro, which has been buffeted by investor nerves
over France's presidential election, to be held in April and
May, bobbed up to $1.0573. The yen also made ground to
112.75 per dollar.
Sterling's recent rally versus the euro continued
despite more warnings that Scotland may be gearing up for
another independence referendum. It also briefly
climbed back above $1.25 against the dollar.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin went on another busy
round of media interviews. He said he wants to see "very
significant" tax reform passed before Congress' August recess
and that the Trump administration was looking closely at border
Along with Trump's policies on taxes, spending and trade,
markets have been trying to gauge his attitude to the dollar.
He said before his inauguration that the dollar's strength
against the Chinese yuan was "killing us", raising concern in
the "strong dollar" policy espoused by recent U.S.
administrations could change.
Mnuchin had praised the strong dollar on Wednesday, however,
telling the Wall Street Journal it reflected confidence in the
Yields on 10-year U.S. Treasury bonds held
steady at 2.415 percent, having fallen after the minutes.
German equivalents, the benchmark for euro zone borrowing,
edged up 1 basis point to 0.28 percent, having
closed on Wednesday at 0.27 percent.
French 10-year yields fell 6 bps, reducing the
premium investors demand to hold French rather than German debt,
as the emergence of a centrist pact eased concerns over the
Influential centrist Francois Bayrou said on Wednesday he
would not stand in the election but would support young gun
Emmanuel Macron, a move that is seen boosting Macron's chances.
A new poll showed far-right, anti-euro party leader Marine
Le Pen increasing her first-round lead, although she is still
expected to lose in the run-off..
"Yesterday's developments in France were positive for French
bonds and broader risk appetite," said Orlando Green, European
fixed income strategist at Credit Agricole in London.
Oil prices rose 1.75 percent after data showed a decline in
U.S. crude stockpiles as imports fell. Brent crude last
traded at $56.56, up 72 cents a barrel.
Prices have been rising since the Organisation of Petroleum
Exporting Countries and other oil producers agreed output cuts
"It's a battle between how quick OPEC can cut without shale
catching up," said Tony Nunan, oil risk manager at Mitsubishi
Corp in Tokyo.
Metals buckled, though. Copper fell almost 1 percent
to $5,982 a tonne on concern about fresh regulation that could
affect China's property boom.
Gold rose less than 0.1 percent to $1,238 an ounce,
supported by uncertainty over the Fed rate outlook. Zinc
and nickel also fell more than 1 percent.
For Reuters Live Markets blog on European and UK stock
markets see reuters://realtime/verb=Open/url=http://emea1.apps.cp.extranet.thomsonreuters.biz/cms/?pageId=livemarkets
(Additional reporting by Nichola Saminather in Singapore, Aaron
Sheldrick in Tokyo, Atul Prakash and Dhara Ranasinghe in London;
Editing by Catherine Evans)