Upbeat Greek outlook pushes stocks higher

February 18, 2012 | 08:52
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European stock markets closed higher Friday as investors took heart from the latest comments on the Greek debt crisis and positive US economic data, analysts said.

A trader works at the stock exchange in Frankfurt in 2011. European stock markets edged ahead on upbeat US data but sentiment remained fragile as investors worried that Greece could be heading for a potentially disastrous default.

German investors shrugged off news that the country's president, a largely ceremonial position, had stepped down as he seeks to deal with a dogged corruption probe.

In London, the FTSE 100 index gained 0.33 per cent to close at 5,905.07 points, the Paris CAC 40 added 1.37 per cent to 3,439.62 points and Frankfurt's DAX 30 rose 1.42 per cent to 6,848.03 points.

"Markets are hopeful that the negotiations regarding the Greek debt swap talks and bailout package can be concluded next week when the Eurozone finance ministers meet" on Monday, a research note from VTB Capital said.

In New York, Wall Street was mixed as investors waited to see whether Greece will get its bailout deal after many delays and alarms.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 31.41 points or 0.24 per cent at 12,935.49 points while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite lost 3.34 points or 0.11 per cent to 2,956.51 points.

"The emergence of a timetable for successfully agreeing the Greek bailout has settled some nerves and boosted risk appetite, though clearly investors look on cautiously considering the scale of previous disappointments and hot air resolutions," City Index analyst Fiona Cinotta said.

The European single currency firmed to $1.3150 from $1.3132 in New York late on Thursday, when it fell as low as $1.2974 -- the lowest point since January 25 -- on intensifying fears of a Greek default.

The dollar rose as high as 79.18 yen, the highest level since October 31, as risk appetite improved following the Japanese central bank's monetary easing earlier this week.

"It is very difficult to assess whether a (Greek) default has already been priced in or that the market just expects Greece to struggle through to survive another day, as this has been the case a few times during this debt crisis," Spreadex trader Jordan Lambert said.

France on Friday condemned as "irresponsible" any suggestion Greece might default on its debt, following reports that some officials in Germany and northern Europe were mulling that possibility.

Asked on RTL radio whether Germany, Finland and the Netherlands might prefer to see Greece bankrupt than to continue to bail it out, Prime Minister Francois Fillon said "everything must be done" to avert such an outcome.

"To play with the idea of a Greek default would be completely irresponsible," the French premier said. "It would be dramatic for the Greeks themselves and it would be dramatic for all Europeans."

Fillon insisted France has absolutely no quarrel with Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel but admitted that "sometimes we hear different voices express themselves in Germany and in the German government."

Eurozone leaders for several weeks have been negotiating a Greek rescue package of 130 billion euros in fresh loans and a writedown on privately-held government bonds worth 100 billion euros ($131 billion) to avoid a default on debt coming on March 20.

Greek lawmakers approved a package of severe austerity measures Sunday but Eurogroup chair Jean-Claude Juncker has said that he has not received the "political assurances" from Greece necessary to green light the rescue fund.

Juncker remains confident his colleagues could take all the necessary decisions on Monday, when they next meet face-to-face in Brussels.

Investors were also encouraged by reports the European Central Bank would participate in a restructuring of Greek debt by private banks.

The news provided some relief over concern about the eurozone's fiscal problems after the 17-nation bloc told Greece it must accept tough surveillance to unlock the bailout package.


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