December 13, 2017 / 12:28 PM / in 3 years

GLOBAL MARKETS-Shares eye record high as Fed heads for 2017 hat-trick

* World stocks inch up for fifth day running

* Fed widely seen hiking interest rates for third time in 2017

* Dollar falls after shock Democratic win in Alabama

* Crude futures claw back towards 2-1/2-year high

* Graphic: World FX rates in 2017 (Updates prices, adds detail on Italy election)

By Marc Jones

LONDON, Dec 13 (Reuters) - Global shares were within a whisker of a record high on Wednesday as markets traded on expectations of a third U.S. interest rate hike this year and waited to hear from the Federal Reserve how many more are likely in 2018.

Solid gains in Asia overnight had inched MSCI’s 47-country world index up for a fifth day running and while the pre-Fed lull meant Europe’s main bourses and U.S futures barely budged, there was action elsewhere.

Reports that Italy will hold an election in March saw its bond yields jump, while the dollar suffered its biggest fall in three weeks after U.S. President Donald Trump saw his already wafer-thin U.S. Senate majority cut further.

The U.S. currency fell as far as 113.12 yen as Democrat Doug Jones won a bitter fight for a Senate seat in deeply conservative Alabama, in a race marked by sexual misconduct accusations against Republican candidate Roy Moore.

The upset will trim the Republicans’ majority to just 51-49, meaning it could be harder for Trump to advance his policy agenda.

“The big issue now is whether Republicans will push through their tax bill before Christmas,” said Sue Trinh, head of Asia foreign-exchange strategy at RBC Capital Markets in Hong Kong.

“And more broadly, U.S. dollar bulls will be more worried that this marks a Democratic revival into 2018 mid-term Congressional elections.”

S&P e-mini futures were down as much as 0.3 percent after the election outcome, though they clawed their way back to flat in European trading even as the region’s STOXX 600 index took a minor slip.

The Alabama vote temporarily took the spotlight away from the Fed, which is widely expected to raise rates later to between 1.25 and 1.50 percent, which will be its third hike of the year and fifth since the financial crisis.

OppenheimerFunds strategist Brian Levitt suspects the Fed will also revise up its growth forecast, adding upside risk to the “dot plot” forecasts on interest rates, though he does not expect as many hikes next year as some economists.

“We are going to see a Fed that continues to attempt to tighten policy next year,” he said.

“But fortunately with inflation low in the U.S. the Fed has the cover to go slowly... I know people have hopes for the tax cuts (planned by Trump), but I don’t think they will be able to push ahead with 3-4 rate hikes.”

The dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of six rival currencies, was down 0.25 percent at 93.86 , pulling away a high of 94.219 touched on Tuesday, which was its highest since Nov. 14.

Against the euro it was off 0.1 percent at $1.1760, while the 10-year Treasury yield slide back to 2.385 percent having been as high as 2.41 percent in early European trade.


Divergence between Fed and ECB policy was supposed to be bullish for the dollar, given it had widened the premium offered by U.S. two-year yields over German yields to 256 basis points from 188 basis points this time last year.

The last time the spread was that stretched was in 1999.

Yet the euro is currently up 12 percent on the dollar this year while the dollar is down 8 percent on a basket of currencies - an indication interest rate differentials aren’t everything in forex.

“Everyone is standing on the sidelines,” DZ Bank rate strategist René Albrecht said as German 10-year Bund yields hovered around 3-month lows.

Italian bonds were firmly in play.

Yields jumped on reports a long-anticipated national election will be held on March 4, with the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement expected to take the biggest share of the vote.

In Asia overnight, MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan climbed 0.4 percent, while South Korean shares gained 0.8 percent and Hong Kong jumped 1.5 percent.

Japan’s Nikkei stock index finished 0.5 percent lower however, pressured by the stronger yen and shrugging off upbeat economic data that showed Japanese core machinery orders rose a more-than-expected 5 percent in October.

In commodity markets, oil was nudging back towards 2-1/2 year highs hit in the previous session on an unplanned closure of the pipeline that carries the largest volume of North Sea crude oil.

Brent crude added 0.5 percent, or 30 cents, to $63.65 a barrel, after shedding 2 percent on Tuesday. U.S. crude added 0.7 percent, or 42 cents, to $57.57, after slipping 1.4 percent overnight.

Gold was near its weakest level in almost five months at $1,242.18 an ounce. It is often seen as a safe-haven play and can perform poorly when central bank’s like the Fed feel confident enough to raise interest rates.

Additional reporting by Lisa Twaronite in Tokyo; Editing by John Stonestreet and Hugh Lawson

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