European markets push higher ahead of US open

AP News
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Posted: Dec 21, 2009 7:30 AM

European stock markets and Wall Street futures rose Monday amid hopes that the recent bout of selling may have run its course. However, bigger gains are not anticipated over the coming days as trading volumes fall because more and more traders are shutting up shop for the Christmas break.

The FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was up 58.22 points, or 1.1 percent, at 5,255.03 while Germany's DAX rose 38.59 points, or 0.7 percent, to 5,869.80. The CAC-40 in France was 26.02 points, or 0.7 percent, higher at 3,820.46.

Wall Street was also poised to open higher at the open later _ Dow futures were up 31 points, or 0.3 percent, at 10,302 while the broader Standard & Poor's 500 futures rose 4.3 point2, or 0.4 percent, to 1,102.

Activity in all markets is being affected heavily by the upcoming year-end _ many investors have already packed up for the year for the Christmas and New Year break. With others set to follow suit in the coming days, trading could well be fairly volatile, especially if they decide to book profits accumulated over the nine-month bull run.

"With volumes steadily dropping ahead of the holiday, most are happy to sit the next couple of weeks out and look at the markets with a fresh pair of eyes in 2010," said Philip Gillett, a sales trader at IG Index.

"For the short-term at least, it seems unlikely that stock markets will make much progress," he added.

Earlier, Asia experienced a mixed session, with Japan's Nikkei index boosted by figures showing that the country's exports fell by their smallest amount in 14 months during November. The news raised hopes that a turnaround in Japan's export sector, the engine of the country's economy, is sustainable.

However, sentiment in the region was dampened by sluggish sessions in Hong Kong and Shanghai as investors were spooked by signs China's government may step up restrictions on the booming real estate sector and the country's banks may have to raise billions in new capital.

The Nikkei advanced 41.42 points, or 0.4 percent, to 10,183.47. Markets in Taiwan and Thailand also rose.

Hong Kong's benchmark dropped 227.78 points, or 1.1 percent, to 20,948.10. China's Shanghai index was down most of the day before closing 0.3 percent higher at 3,122.97. And South Korea's Kospi fell 0.2 percent while Australia's main market lost 0.3 percent.

In the currency markets, the euro recovered modestly from three and a half month dollar lows of $1.4281, trading 0.3 percent higher on the day at $1.4344.

The dollar has bounced back from 15-month euro lows in the last three weeks amid mounting expectations that the U.S. Federal Reserve will start withdrawing its extraordinary liquidity measures and raising interest rates sooner than expected. Meanwhile, the euro has been dogged by concerns over the economic situation in a number of European countries.

Jane Foley, research director at Forex.com, said these concerns are likely to keep the euro under pressure for a while yet.

"The downgrading of Greece's sovereign debt and expectations of more bad news from Spain and Portugal and potentially from Ireland, Iceland and the Baltics is likely to continue weighing on the euro going forward," said Foley.

Meanwhile, the dollar was 0.1 percent higher at 90.44 yen _ as recently as late November, the dollar had sunk to a 14-year low of 84.81 yen.

Oil prices were slightly higher, with benchmark crude for January delivery up 20 cents to $73.56. The January contract, which expires later on Monday, rose 71 cents on Friday.

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AP Business Writer Jeremiah Marquez in Hong Kong contributed to this report.