World stocks touch record high, US$ decline deepens

A worker shelters from the rain as he passes the London Stock Exchange in the City of London. - Reuters filepic

NEW YORK: A global stocks index touched a fresh record high on Friday, wrapping up a week when many of the world's major central banks either raised interest rates or signaled they might do so, underlining confidence about economic growth and inflation.

The U.S. dollar slipped, continuing its slide in the wake of the Federal Reserve's decision on Wednesday to boost interest rates but maintain a gradual pace of hikes this year.

Investors were also watching a meeting of global finance chiefs in Germany beginning on Friday. The world's financial leaders will renounce competitive devaluations and warn against exchange rate volatility, a document showed.

MSCI's all-country world stock index was little changed after touching an all-time high earlier in the day.

The Fed raised rates for the second time in three months on Wednesday and China hiked rates on Thursday, while Britain and a European Central Bank policymaker hinted at higher rates.

"It looks like the rest of the central banks may be thinking about tightening up a little bit," said Bucky Hellwig, senior vice president at BB&T Wealth Management in Birmingham, Alabama.

"It confirms that growth is improving both domestically and globally, which is what everyone has been looking for ... They wouldn’t be doing that if their economies still needed aggressive monetary stimulus."

On Wall Street, the benchmark S&P 500 ended slightly lower, as bank shares fell alongside Treasury yields.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average <.DJI> fell 19.93 points, or 0.1 percent, to 20,914.62, the S&P 500 <.SPX> lost 3.13 points, or 0.13 percent, to 2,378.25 and the Nasdaq Composite <.IXIC> added 0.24 points to 5,901.00.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index gained 0.2 percent. European bank stocks touched their highest point in more than a year after an European Central Bank policymaker kindled talk of a possible rate hike.

The ECB will decide later whether to raise interest rates before or after ending its bond purchase program, policymaker Ewald Nowotny told a newspaper.

"I think Nowotny and a lot of the regulators and central bankers realize that negative interest rates have been a disaster for the economy and they're going to get more positive," said David Hussey, head of European equities at Manulife Asset Management in London.

The dollar edged 0.04 percent lower to a fresh five-week low against a basket of currencies <.DXY>. The greenback remained under pressure for a third straight session after the Fed quashed hopes for a further bull run in the currency by keeping a gradual pace to its monetary tightening policy.

"At the moment, the dollar remains in correction mode," said Fawad Razaqzada, market analyst at in London.

Data on Friday showed a steadily improving U.S. economy, with manufacturing output rising for a sixth straight month in February and preliminary consumer confidence for the month of March increasing as well.

U.S. Treasury yields edged lower after data showing low inflation in March suggested the Fed could aim for a slower pace of rate hikes this year than it had forecast on Wednesday.

Prices for benchmark 10-year Treasuries gained 7/32 to yield 2.499 percent, from 2.524 percent late on Thursday.

Oil prices were steady and posted modest gain weekly gains after losing almost 10 percent last week.

Brent crude settled up 2 cents at $51.76 a barrel. U.S. light crude settled up 3 cents at $48.78. - Reuters
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