Firmer stocks await U.S. GDP data before Wall St opening bell


LONDON: Stocks held their gains on Thursday ahead of U.S. economic growth figures as investors bet the U.S. Federal Reserve meeting next week will flag a pause in the central bank's run of hefty interest rate hikes.

Oil prices gained about 1% on expectations that demand will strengthen as top oil importer China reopens its economy, while gold eased after hitting a 9-month peak.

The dollar fell to an eight-month low against its peers as a gloomy fourth-quarter earnings season continued ahead of U.S. Federal Reserve, European Central Bank, and Bank of England meetings next week, with all three expected to continue hiking interest rates.

Ahead of that, the Commerce Department is due to release advance estimates of U.S. fourth-quarter gross domestic product later on Thursday, with expectations that strong growth continued in the final months of 2022.

Stocks rose on Wednesday after the Bank of Canada became the first major central bank to say it was ready to pause or end its tightening cycle, with markets now hoping that other central banks will hint next week at a similar mindset, analysts said.

U.S. stock index futures were slightly firmer after news of Tesla's bullish sales outlook for its electric cars.

The MSCI all country stock index was up 0.2% at 644.68 points, just short of Monday's high for the year, with the benchmark now 6% up for 2023.

In Europe, the STOXX index of 600 leading companies was up 0.5%, leaving it up about 6% for the year, erasing about half of last year's losses.

"What the market is really looking for is what the Fed will say next week in terms of how many hikes they have in mind," Laureline Renaud-Chatelain, fixed income strategist at Pictet Wealth Management, who expects a 25-basis point hike at next week's Fed meeting.

Markets are expecting rate cuts later this year and while there is momentum in stocks, the unfolding fourth-quarter results season is disappointing in parts, leading to corrections in earnings expectations, Renaud-Chatelain said.

"We believe the Fed will make a special effort to avoid suggesting that the end of the tightening process is in sight," said Kevin Cummins, chief economist at NatWest Markets.

CRUDE UP, GOLD OFF HIGHS

Asian equities rose to a fresh seven-month high, with Hong Kong shares playing catch-up to other markets' gains as trade resumed after its three-day Lunar New Year holiday.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan climbed 1.1% and was set for its fifth straight day of gains.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index surged 2.4% in its first day of trade in the Year of the Rabbit, while Japan's Nikkei fell 0.12%.

In the currency market, the dollar index, which measures the U.S. currency against six major rivals, was at 101.81.

The Japanese yen strengthened 0.2% to 129.82 per dollar, while sterling was last trading at $1.2391, down slightly on the day.

The yield on 10-year Treasury notes edged up to 3.4892%, while the yield on the 30-year Treasury bond was firmer at 3.6389%.

Oil prices were steady after U.S. crude stocks rose less than expected. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude was up 1.1% at $81.06 per barrel, while Brent was at $87.07, up 1% on the day.

Gold prices earlier touched a nine-month high before easing to $1,935, down 0.5%. - Reuters

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