Global stocks test record highs, pound braces for election all-nighter

Global stocks test record highs, pound braces for election all-nighter

LONDON (Reuters) – World shares took a fresh run at record highs on Thursday, as all the right messages from the U.S. Federal Reserve set traders up nicely for a packed day of milestone central bank meetings and a Brexit-defining election in Britain.

FILE PHOTO: A man looks on in front of an electronic board showing stock information at a brokerage house in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, China February 13, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo

The Fed kept U.S. interest rates unchanged, as expected, but it was a message that it would take an unexpected and “persistent” rise in inflation to lift them again that buoyed the bulls and shoved the dollar to its lowest since August.

It helped Asian shares rally almost 1%, despite reports Washington will press on with new China tariffs, and solid 0.2%-0.5% gains in Europe early on left MSCI’s broadest index of world shares .MIWD00000PUS just 0.1% shy of its January 2018 all-time high.

“The Fed’s accommodative stance does support equities, but the chance of a disruptive election outcome in Britain is very real,” said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets in Sydney.

Traders are bracing for a series of make-or-break events over the next few days that have the potential to cause huge swings in financial markets for months to come.

Sterling was hovering at its highest in more than two years versus the euro and close to an eight-month high versus the dollar as voting began in an election that will determine whether Britain exits the European Union next month.

Expectations are that the ruling Conservatives, led by Boris Johnson, will score a majority that allows his Brexit deal to be passed by a new parliament, but the latest polls have shown the lead shrinking.

Exit polls for Britain’s election will begin around 2200 GMT, after voting closes, with clarity over whether their will be a clear winner or another hung parliament likely between 0400 GMT and 0600 GMT.

Following a 10% surge by the pound in the last few months, Traders and investors are now hedging their bets. Union Bancaire Privée’s Global Head of Forex Strategy Peter Kinsella said a Conservative majority remained his expectation, however.

“We think a move to levels of around $1.35 or even $1.37 is entirely feasible,” if there is a decent Conservative majority, whereas with another hung parliament “you are definitely back down to $1.26-1.27.”

It was last at $1.3205 GBP=D3, just shy of its highest since March and close to a May 2017 peak against the euro at 84.32 pence EURGBP=.

(Graphic: Sterling vs. odds of Conservative majority in 2019 election – here)

The euro EUR=EBS was also climbing against the weakened dollar. It rose as far as $1.1144, close to a five-week high before Christine Lagarde’s first meeting as President of the European Central Bank.

She is almost certain to keep rate rates on hold, but her style and signals will be closely watched by economists, especially with the bank due to update its forecasts and make some changes to its policy framework next year.

Switzerland’s central bank had got up early and already held its rate meeting meanwhile. Negative interest rates remain central to its plans, the SNB’s Chairman Thomas Jordan said as it maintained its ultra-expansive monetary policy. The Swiss franc barely budged.

There were fresh U.S.-China developments to digest too.

U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to meet top advisers on Thursday to discuss tariffs on nearly $160 billion of Chinese consumer goods that are scheduled to take effect on Dec. 15, three sources told Reuters.

Trump is expected to go ahead with the tariffs, a separate source told Reuters, which could scuttle efforts to end a 17-month long trade dispute between the world’s two-largest economies.

The dollar index .DXY against a basket of six major currencies fell 0.3% to 97.057, briefly touching a new four-month low.

Treasury yields had fallen in reaction to the Fed’s comments, but they rebounded slightly in Asia and Europe. The yield on benchmark 10-year Treasury notes US10YT=RR rose to 1.7966%.

In commodities, U.S. crude CLc1 edged up 0.15% to $58.85 a barrel. Brent crude LCOc1 rose 0.39% to $63.97 per barrel. A report by OPEC released on Wednesday suggested that oil markets are tighter than previously thought.

Traders are also focused on state oil company Saudi Aramco (2222.SE). Its value brushed $2 trillion shares on Thursday as its shares surged again following its Riyadh stock market debut on Wednesday.

Reporting by Marc Jones; Editing by Alex Richardson

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