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GLOBAL MARKETS-European shares hit 20-month high, Brent buckles below $50
May 4, 2017 / 1:15 PM / 7 months ago

GLOBAL MARKETS-European shares hit 20-month high, Brent buckles below $50

* Graphic: World FX rates in 2017 tmsnrt.rs/2egbfVh

* European shares at 20-month high after upbeat data, earnings

* Dollar holds gains after Fed downplays slower Q1 growth

* Chances of Fed rate hike in June jump to 72 percent

* Asia stocks lower, after subdued Wall Street

* U.S. House expected to vote on Obamacare repeal bill on Thursday

* Oil below $50 on smaller-than-expected U.S. inventory decline

* Euro climbs as ECB chief economist talks of guidance shift

By Marc Jones

LONDON, May 4 (Reuters) - Signs that centrist Emmanuel Macron was heading for victory in France’s presidential election and buoyant business confidence helped European shares to a near two-year high on Thursday, despite some wary signals from China and commodity markets.

Wall Street looked set to open as much as 0.3 percent higher when it resumes on what will be a packed day of data and earnings. U.S. President Donald Trump is also set to make another attempt to get Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law scrapped by Washington.

A poll showing Macron had outperformed far-right candidate Marine Le Pen in a televised debate had put Europe on the front foot from the start and sent short-term French bond yields to their lowest in two months.

Shares then squeezed the accelerator as data showed euro zone businesses turning out their best performance in six years, figures that the European Central Bank's top economist called "comforting". bit.ly/2q1MSQm

Global signals were more mixed however. U.S. worker productivity unexpectedly fell in the first quarter, leading to a jump in labour-related costs.

The weakest growth in a year from China’s services sector also added to the pressure on oversupplied oil and metals markets that have began to buckle again in recent weeks.

Those strains were exacerbated too by a stronger dollar after the Federal Reserve had downplayed the somewhat soft start to the year for the U.S. economy at its latest meeting on Wednesday.

“There are a number of things playing out at the moment. Traditionally in May there is a strong dollar effect and that is adding to the pressure on the commodity bloc,” said Unicredit’s head of FX Strategy Vasileios Gkionakis.

“In Europe it is slightly different. There is what is going on with the French election and we have been seeing some strong data.”

A flurry of well-received earnings updates contributed as Europe’s STOXX 600 hit its highest since August 2015. They included a smaller-than-feared fall in bank giant HSBC’s profits which sent its shares up more than 3 percent.

Oil and gas stocks were also up 1.1 percent following robust updates from both Statoil and Royal Dutch Shell, which rose 3 percent and 2.3 percent respectively.

It is was a different situation in the physical commodity markets though.

Oil benchmarks fell for a third session in four and Brent was back under $50 a barrel by the time U.S. trading began as the China services wobble compounded supply data that had shown a smaller than expected decline in U.S. inventories.

Bellwether industrial metal copper was also teetering near a four-month low on what traders said was China-based selling and on expectations that two U.S. rate rises this year could curb interest in dollar-denominated metals.

“There is a mass of U.S. data including key employment numbers, durable goods and factory orders and if these also fall below expectations it would be reasonable to expect another wave of selling,” Kingdom Futures said in a note.

GOING FOR A HIKE

After the dollar had risen across the board following the Fed’s meeting on Wednesday, the dollar index which measures it against the top six world currencies, steadied just off a two-week high at 99.132.

It was marginally higher at 112.90 yen but rose as much as a third of a percent to $0.7394 per Aussie dollar and 0.2 percent against the New Zealand dollar.

The euro meanwhile drew support from the upbeat data and Macron’s performance ahead of Sunday’s French election run-off to edge back above $1.09.

World markets have been assuming a Macron win since the first round of votes last month and so there is only a little juice left in any relief rallies come Sunday evening.

That said, European equity markets have been outperforming Wall Street this week as the latter stumbled on Apple’s iPhone hiccup and Wednesday’s signs that the Fed will not be deflected from its plans to gradually raise U.S. interest rates.

At the end of its two-day meeting, the Fed kept its benchmark interest rate steady, as expected, but downplayed weak first-quarter economic growth and emphasised the strength of the labour market, a sign it was still on track for two more rate increases this year.

Futures traders are now pricing in a 72 percent chance of a June rate hike, from 63 percent before the Fed’s statement, according to the CME Group’s FedWatch Tool.

Attention now turns to U.S. non-farm payrolls due on Friday, after separate data showed new applications for U.S. jobless benefits fell more than expected last week and the number of Americans on unemployment rolls hit a 17-year low.

Economists polled by Reuters expect U.S. private payroll employment likely grew by 185,000 jobs in April, up from 89,000 in March. (Additional reporting by Nichola Saminather in Singapore; Editing by Toby Davis)

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