Stocks surge after Fed chief outlines gradual approach to rate hikes and strong European data

LONDON – Global stock markets started the week strongly Monday following strong European economic figures and as investors cheered an indication from U.S. Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen that U.S. interest rates would rise only gradually. Chinese stocks soared Monday on hopes of more economic stimulus.

KEEPING SCORE: In Europe, Germany’s DAX was up 1.3 per cent at 12,024 while the CAC-40 in France rose 1 per cent to 5,084. The FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was 0.3 per cent higher at 6,877. Wall Street was poised for a solid start with Dow futures and the broader S&P 500 futures 0.5 per cent higher.

EUROZONE UPTICK: Further evidence emerged to suggest that the economic recovery across the 19-country eurozone is gaining traction. A survey from the European Commission showed economic sentiment across the region at its highest level since July 2011. Its main economic sentiment indicator rose to 103.9 in March from 102.3 the month before. That’s consistent with annual economic growth of around 1.5 per cent. Though shy of levels recorded in the U.S., it’s a step-change in levels recorded over recent years in the eurozone.

GREEK FEARS OVERSHADOWED: Hopes over the eurozone recovery have offset renewed concerns over Greece as the country and its creditor struggle to agree on the reform measures that Athens has to implement if it’s to unlock vital bailout funds. EU Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said that despite continued work through the weekend, a deal on comprehensive reforms “requires a lot of technical work.”

ANALYST TAKE: “Even increasing Greek risk is being brushed off just as more of an inconvenience than an actual concern,” said Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at OANDA. “Greece is merely a distraction in the more important and long overdue recovery story.”

FED RELIEF: Also shoring up markets were Friday’s comments from Yellen. In a speech in San Francisco, she said the danger associated with raising rates too fast is greater than that of acting too slowly. The outlook for U.S. interest rates could be greatly impacted this week with a raft of economic data that culminates on Friday with the March nonfarm payrolls report, which can set the tone in markets for a week or two after its release.

DOLLAR REIGNS: Ongoing expectations that the Fed will raise interest rates at some stage this year continue to support the dollar though. It was up 0.6 per cent Monday at 119.90 yen while the euro fell 0.5 per cent to $1.0831 despite the strong European data.

CHINA HOPES: Earlier in Asia, Chinese stocks were in the ascendant after Zhou Xiaochuan, governor of the People’s Bank of China, indicated that the world’s number 2. economy had slowed “a bit too sharply.” For investors, that suggested the Communist Party government will introduce new stimulus measures to prevent growth slowing too sharply.

ASIA SCORECARD: Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 closed up 0.7 per cent to 19,411.40 and South Korea’s Kospi gained 0.5 per cent to 2,030.04. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng jumped 1.5 per cent to 24,855.12 and the Shanghai Composite Index in mainland China soared 2.6 per cent to 3,786.57.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude lost 70 cents to $48.17 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils, fell 68 cents to $55.73 in London.