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GLOBAL MARKETS-Asian stocks rise as steelmakers dismiss U.S. probe, euro fretful before French vote
April 21, 2017 / 12:57 AM / 3 months ago

GLOBAL MARKETS-Asian stocks rise as steelmakers dismiss U.S. probe, euro fretful before French vote

6 Min Read

* Asia ex-Japan stocks set for weekly loss; Nikkei higher

* Steelmakers steady, unfazed by U.S. probe on Chinese exports

* European stocks poised for muted start

* Euro falls back from three-week high amid French election fears

* Oil set for worst week in six on U.S. oversupply fears

By Nichola Saminather

SINGAPORE, April 21 (Reuters) - Asian stocks were set to end the week on a positive note, unscathed by a U.S. trade probe on Chinese steel exports, while the euro remained on edge ahead of Sunday's first round in a tight French presidential election after a shooting overnight in Paris that was claimed by Islamic State.

European stocks were headed for a more muted start, with financial spreadbetters expecting Britain's FTSE 100 to open flat and Germany's DAX to start the day up 0.1 percent. France's CAC 40 is also expected to be steady at the open, retaining most of Thursday's 1.5 percent gain, its biggest in more than seven weeks.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan added 0.5 percent on Friday, taking its cue from Wall Street's solid performance overnight on expectations of strong first-quarter earnings growth. It is still poised for a 0.4 percent weekly loss.

Asian steelmakers were mostly steady or higher, as investors dismissed for now any negative impact from the launch of a U.S. trade probe against Chinese steel exporters, although Chinese companies shed some of their earlier gains. The move sent their U.S. counterparts surging over 8 percent overnight.

China's Angang Steel added 0.4 percent, while Baoshan Iron and Steel Co., Beijing Shougang and Hesteel Co. inched down between 0.1 percent and 0.2 percent.

The region's other major steel producers posted strong gains, with Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. jumping 1 percent, and South Korea's Posco surging 2.5 percent, its biggest daily gain in more than three weeks.

"The U.S. accounts for a small proportion of China's steel exports," said Yang Kunhe, steel analyst at Northeast Securities in Beijing, adding Northeast Asia and Africa have been growing markets for Chinese steel over the past few years.

“But if Trump’s probe translates into actions, it would increase the chance of trade friction, and hurt market sentiment.”

Only 0.8 percent of Chinese steel exports go to the U.S., according to a U.S. Commerce Department report from December.

Markets also mostly shrugged off White House comments that the U.S. may consider tit-for-tat tariffs on imports, and concerns raised by the International Monetary Fund that U.S. tax cuts could fuel financial risk-taking and increase public debt.

Japan's Nikkei advanced 0.8 percent, on track for a weekly gain of 1.4 percent.

Chinese shares in Shanghai added 0.1 percent, set for a 2.2 percent weekly drop, their worst since mid-December. Hong Kong stocks were little changed, heading for a 0.8 percent loss for the week.

The first round of the French presidential election on Sunday kept the euro on edge though it traded largely flat on Friday, holding at $1.0717.

The common currency had hit a three-week high of $1.0778 on Thursday, but fell back after a policeman was shot dead in Paris and two others in an attack that was claimed by Islamic State.

Analysts feared the latest outrage could sway French voters in what is expected to be a tight election, by working against more moderate, centrist candidates.

The euro had made the earlier high thanks to opinion polls that showed French centrist Emmanuel Macron would easily beat far-right, anti-European Union candidate Marine Le Pen in the second round on May 7.

"Let's hope (Macron) doesn't get squeezed out, particularly in light of last night’s terrorist attack in Paris, which given the tightness of the polls, could influence events," Michael Hewson, chief market anaylst at CMC Markets in London, wrote in a note.

French 10-year Treasury yields slumped to a near-three-month low of 0.856 percent on Thursday, while safe-haven German bund yields jumped to 0.244 percent, their highest close in nearly two weeks.

Markets are awaiting several economic indicators from Europe later in the session, including Eurozone manufacturing and services data for April and British retail sales for March. U.S. manufacturing and services data for April and existing home sales for March were due to be released later in the global day.

Wall Street indexes closed between 0.75 percent and 0.9 percent higher on rising expectations for first-quarter corporate profits. S&P 500 stock index company earnings now are expected to have gained 11.1 percent in the first quarter.

The dollar was 0.1 percent lower at 109.19 yen. It is up 0.6 percent for the week.

The dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of trade-weighted peers, was little changed at 99.806, on track to lose 0.75 percent this week.

In commodities, oil drifted on Friday following Thursday's choppy session as the tussle continued between worries over rising U.S. production and optimism over comments from leading Gulf oil producers that an extension to OPEC-led supply cuts was likely.

U.S. oil was up 0.1 percent at $50.74 a barrel, set for a weekly loss of 4.6 percent, the most since the week ended March 10.

Global benchmark Brent was steady at $53.00, heading for a 5.2 percent weekly loss, also its worst performance since March 10.

Gold slipped 0.1 percent to $1,279.87 an ounce, poised for a weekly loss of 0.4 percent. (Reporting by Nichola Saminather; Additional reporting by John Ruwitch, Samuel Shen and Sadiq Iqbal Ahmed; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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