Strong year for stocks, not for dollar

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A stock quotation board displaying Japan’s Nikkei average. Reuters

(Reuters) – Markets are ending 2017 in a party mood after a pick-up in global growth boosted corporate profits and commodities, while tame inflation kept central banks from snatching away the punch bowl of easy monetary policy.

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MSCI’s world equity index, which tracks 47 countries, inched up 0.13 percent, and was poised to add a 14th straight month of gains to put it at an all-time high. The index gained 22 percent for the year.

Emerging markets have led the charge with gains of 34 percent. Hong Kong surged 36 percent, South Korea climbed 22 percent, India rose 28 percent and Poland made 27 percent in local currency terms.

Japan’s Nikkei and the S&P 500 are both ahead by almost 20 percent, while the Dow has risen by a quarter. In Europe, the UK FTSE has lagged behind a little with a rise of nearly 8 percent.

Craig James, chief economist at fund manager CommSec, said of the 73 bourses it tracks globally, all but nine have recorded gains in local currency terms this year.

“For the outlook, the key issue is whether the low growth rates of prices and wages will continue, thus prompting central banks to remain on the monetary policy sidelines,” said Mr James.

“Globalization and technological change have been influential in keeping inflation low. In short, consumers can buy goods whenever they want and wherever they are.”

Yet after a strong run-up there may be little room for error. US stock markets opened lower on Friday, trimming their strong gains for the year.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 31.83 points, or 0.13 percent, to 24,805.68, the S&P 500 lost 2.47 points, or 0.09 percent, to 2,685.07 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 17.75 points, or 0.26 percent, to 6,932.41.

“While the broader economic outlook appears increasingly rosy, as captured by measures of consumer and business confidence, the more cautious nature of investors hints at a concern that markets may have already discounted much of the good news,” said Michael Metcalf, State Street’s head of global macro strategy.

One of the early issues for next year will be an Italian election scheduled for March 4. As things currently stand the vote is expected to produce a hung parliament that could ultimately catapult the 81-year-old, four-times premier Silvio Berlusconi back to center stage.

Benchmark 10-year Italian government bond yields rose to fresh two-month highs on Friday at 1.99 percent. They started the year at just over 1.8 percent but are still under the highs of 2.6 percent hit back in March.

US dollar bulls have not been fortunate this year. The widely held assumption at the start of the year was that, with the Federal Reserve set to raise interest rates further and lawmakers poised to cut taxes, the only way for the dollar was up.

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