World stocks buoyed by US data as dollar slides

AP News
Posted: Nov 25, 2009 11:58 AM

European and U.S. stock markets rose Wednesday after a batch of stronger than anticipated U.S. economic data and as trading levels dried up ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.

Meanwhile, the dollar fell to a fresh 15-month low against the euro after the U.S. Federal Reserve indicated that interest rates will remain at super-low levels for a while yet and said the U.S. currency's decline had been "orderly."

In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares closed up 40.85 points, or 0.8 percent, at 5,364.81 while Germany's DAX rose 33.71 points, or 0.6 percent, to 5,803.02. The CAC-40 in France was 24.54 points, or 0.7 percent, higher at 3,809.16.

In the U.S., the Dow Jones industrial average was up 37.57 points, or 0.4 percent, at 10,471.28 around midday New York time while the broader Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 4.24 points, or 0.4 percent, at 1,110.46.

The modestly positive sentiment in the markets was sustained by a string of better than expected U.S. economic data.

The U.S. Labor Department said the weekly number of people filing first-time claims for jobless benefits fell by 35,000 to 466,000, its lowest level since September last year. The fall was way more than expected _ analysts were anticipating claims to be around 500,000.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Commerce Department said consumer spending rose a brisk 0.7 percent last month, following a 0.6 percent drop in September. That was the best showing since a big 1.3 percent jump in August, when the government's now-defunct 'cash for clunkers' programs enticed people to buy cars.

The Commerce Department also revealed that sales of new homes rose last month to their highest level in more than a year _ sales rose 6.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 430,000 from an upwardly revised 405,000 in September. Analysts had only expected a modest increase to 410,000.

"Americans can at least go into the Thanksgiving holiday break with a greater degree of comfort," said Howard Wheeldon, senior strategist at BGC Partners.

The one negative came with an unexpected decline in orders for big-ticket items in October. Orders for costly manufactured goods dropped 0.6 percent last month, following a 2 percent gain in September. The decline was the first since August but analysts noted that the figures are often volatile.

The major development in markets, though, was the renewed weakness of the dollar, which fell heavily after the Fed said it plans to keep interest rates at "exceptionally low levels" for an "extended period" _ currently the Fed funds rate stands at a range between zero and 0.25 percent.

The minutes to the last rate-setting meeting, published Tuesday, also showed that a number of the rate-setters thought that it could take five or six years to make up the output lost during the recession and get unemployment back to normal levels. They also said the fall in the dollar had been "orderly."

Hans Redeker, global head of foreign exchange strategy at BNP Paribas, said that remark indicates "that the Fed is relaxed about the current pace of dollar weakness."

By late-afternoon London time, the euro was 0.7 percent higher at $1.5061, having earlier risen as high as $1.5096, its highest level since August 2008. Meanwhile the dollar was down 1 percent at 87.62 yen, having fallen as low as 87.36 yen, its weakest level since January. If it falls much further, it will approach 14-year yen lows.

Earlier, Japan's Nikkei 225 stock average advanced 0.4 percent to 9,441.64 _ its first rise in five days. And China's Shanghai benchmark rebounded from a big retreat the day before, closing up 2.1 percent at 3,290.17.

Elsewhere in Asia, Hong Kong's Hang Seng index advanced 0.8 percent to 22,611.80, while South Korea's Kospi climbed 0.3 percent to 1,611.88. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 added 0.8 percent to 4,722.20 and Singapore's benchmark was up 0.3 percent.

The Australian dollar was in focus Wednesday after Ric Battellino, the deputy governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia said the economy had entered a "new upswing" and that growth would continue for a "few more years yet."

The Australian dollar was up 0.8 percent at $0.9263 in the wake of his remarks.

Oil fell below $76 a barrel, with benchmark crude for January delivery down 10 cents at $75.92 a barrel.


AP Business Writer Joe McDonald in Beijing contributed to this report.