World stocks hit new highs, oil soars, Fed moves into focus

Image: A man looks at a stock quotation board outside a brokerage in Tokyo, Japan, April 18, 2016. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

By Dhara Ranasinghe

LONDON (Reuters) – Upbeat earnings reports helped drive global stock markets to record highs on Wednesday, as investors turned their focus to a U.S. Federal Reserve meeting for fresh insight on the outlook for monetary policy in the world’s biggest economy.

Oil prices extended a bull run on hopes that major producers would maintain their output cuts. The dollar firmed ahead of a Fed rate decision and digital currency bitcoin surged to a record high.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index climbed to its highest level since August 2015 as stock markets in London , Paris and Frankfurt gained 0.5 to 1.2 percent in early trade.

That followed a rally in Asia, where stock markets hit 10-year highs. MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.9 percent, led by a 1.3 percent jump in South Korea . Japan’s Nikkei soared 1.9 percent.

South Korea’s economic growth accelerated to its fastest pace in seven years last quarter. Growth in Taiwan during the same period was the strongest in 2 1/2 years.

Shares of Japanese multinational Sony rose more than 11 percent, after the company announced record annual profit in 2017 owing to strong sales of semiconductors and favorable exchange rates.

In the United States, Wall Street’s three major indexes ended October with their biggest monthly gains since February.

The advance reading of U.S. GDP for July-September showed healthy growth of 3.0 percent, above the average of just over 2.0 percent since the financial crisis in 2008-09.

As of Tuesday’s close, 45 percent of MSCI Europe companies had reported results for the third quarter, of which 66 percent either beat or met expectations, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S data.

The combination of robust economic and corporate earnings growth from the third quarter is giving the long-running bull market a new lease of life.

MSCI’s world stock index climbed 0.3 percent to a record high .

“While earnings are good, inflation and bond yields are relatively low, why would you take your money out of stocks?” said Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets.


The Fed concludes a meeting later on Wednesday. It is widely expected to leave interest rates unchanged and raise rates in December.

The rate decision comes just before an expected announcement of the next head of the central bank. The White House has said U.S. President Donald Trump will announce his Fed pick on Thursday.

Trump is expected to pick Fed Governor Jerome Powell, who is considered more dovish on interest rates than some other candidates and thus relatively stock-market friendly, sources have told Reuters.

Expectations that Powell will lead the Fed have helped to drive down U.S. bond yields and the dollar this week.

Investors were also focused on a U.S. tax-cut plan. Legislation had been expected on Wednesday, but sources said Republicans in the House of Representatives would delay it for a day as lawmakers try to resolve differences involving retirement accounts and state and local taxes.

“If the negotiation gets derailed, that would have a negative impact on markets, so we need to be careful,” said Masahiro Ichikawa, senior strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui Asset Management.


The dollar’s index against a basket of six major currencies stood at 94.60, down from last week’s three-month peak of 95.15 .

The euro <EUR=> was little changed at $1.1644, some distance from the three-month low of $1.1574 it touched on Friday after the European Central Bank’s stance was perceived to be more dovish than expected.

The biggest currency mover was the New Zealand dollar <NZD=D4>. It jumped over 1 percent to $0.6931 after the country’s jobless rate sank more than expected to a nine-year low of 4.6 percent.

Bitcoin <BTC=BTSP> hit another record high of $6,450, boosted by bets the crypto-currency might enter the financial mainstream after the world’s largest derivatives exchange operator said on Tuesday it would launch bitcoin futures.

Oil prices extended a rally which began in early October, largely driven by hopes that oil producing countries will agree to extend an output cut at their meeting at the end of this month.

Brent futures , the international benchmark for oil prices, were at $61.50 per barrel, up 0.9 percent on the day, having hit fresh two-year highs. Brent is up almost 40 percent since its 2017 lows last June.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude was up over half a dollar to $54.95 a barrel, or 1 percent. It is up some 30 percent since 2017 lows hit in June.

(Reporting by Dhara Ranasinghe; Additional reporting by Hideyuki Sano in Tokyo; Editing by Larry King)
Copyright 2017 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.

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