World stocks eked out small gains on Thursday as investors resisted risky bets ahead of the first round of the French presidential election over the weekend. Oil prices, which fell sharply on Wednesday on supply news, regained some of their losses. In general, markets cautiously stuck to well-worn trading ranges buffeted by concern over political risks and continued tensions over North Korea.
Europe’s STOXX 600 rose 0.1 percent bolstered by strong sales reported by consumer sector bellwether Unilever. The FTSE 100, which has slid into negative territory for the year, was little changed.
In Asian hours, Japanese stocks failed to hold on to slim gains and closed flat on the day. MSCI’s world stock index was up 0.13 percent.
“Given the binary risk of the French presidential elections and geopolitical concerns over North Korea, investors are staying on the sidelines,” said Fan Cheuk Wan, head of investment strategy and advisory, Asia, at HSBC Private Banking.
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A run of disappointing U.S. economic data and questions about whether the Trump administration can push through tax cuts have dented some of the enthusiasm for risky assets in recent weeks.
A sharp dip to three-week lows in oil prices overnight was the latest sign of an unwind in the global reflation trade. Crude oil clawed back some of the loss but concerns about a supply glut capped the rebound.
“Rising U.S. oil inventory data is now starting to impact the market’s aggressive long position in crude,” said analysts at Morgan Stanley in a note to clients.
Brent crude futures were up 0.5 percent to $53.22 a barrel after sliding more than 3 percent in the previous session. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures were up 0.4 percent.
In currency markets, the euro rose 0.4 percent to a three-week high of $1.0748 against the dollar. The greenback was 0.2 percent weaker against a basket of major currencies.
Centrist Emmanuel Macron held on to his lead as the favourite to emerge as the eventual victor in the French presidential election, a closely watched poll showed, although it indicated that the outcome of the first round of voting on Sunday was too close to call. Millions of French voters remain undecided, making this the least predictable vote in France in decades, and raising fears of a potential surprise result that could spread turmoil in markets.
France’s borrowing costs nudged down on Thursday before a bond auction that is likely to be watched more closely than usual, coming just ahead of Sunday’s presidential election. French bonds have come under heavy selling pressure this year as an unpredictable election race unfolded, with strong support for far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and the far left’s Jean-Luc Melenchon, both anti-euro, alarming investors. Most other euro zone bond yields were little changed on the day.Additional reporting by Saikat Chatterjee in HONG KONG Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)
Additional reporting by Saikat Chatterjee in HONG KONG Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)