European shares head for first weekly drop since April

Reuters
A general view with the German share price index DAX board of the German stock exchange in Frankfurt
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A general view with the German share price index DAX board of the German stock exchange in Frankfurt …

By Marc Jones

LONDON (Reuters) - Concern about Iraq and Ukraine and subdued economic data left European shares facing their first week of losses since early April on Friday. Gold rose to near a two-month high.

Other safe-haven assets - the yen, Swiss franc and German and U.S. government bonds - were also in demand as investors backed away from the riskier bets they have been making for much of this year.

Stock rose slightly in London, Frankfurt and Paris but fell in Greece and Portugal. Losses earlier in the week meant European shares were set to bring a 10-week run of gains to an end.

Fighting between Iraqi forces and insurgents raged in the home town the late dictator Saddam Hussein and Russia warned of "grave consequences" as Ukraine signed a trade and political agreement with the European Union.

The uncertainty, along with a run of disappointing data this week, meant that Wall Street was poised for another subdued start and its second week of losses in the last three.

"Part of it was the GDP shock two days ago, then we get the soft consumer spending data," said Philip Marey, a U.S. focused economist at Rabobank. "A few weeks ago, there was this big exuberance and the sky was the limit and now those hopes have really faded."

Gold was closing in on a fourth straight weekly gain at $1,315 an ounce, as the geopolitical unrest boosted its appeal and the soft U.S. data weakened the dollar.

On the other hand, any substantial slowdown in major economies could keep interest rates at record lows for longer. The mixed messages kept markets struggling for clarity.

"The advance has stopped for a while, but there has been no five or 10 percent correction," said Alvin Tan, a strategist at Societe Generale. "And that is a result of the environment of very low volatility we have at the moment."

Investors were also digesting an unexpected drop in euro zone business and consumer confidence data and a small rise in German inflation numbers. Both are important for the European Central Bank's future policy.

The decline in sentiment confirmed recent PMI data, and underscored the low gear the 18-country bloc's economy was stuck in and the need for European leaders to accelerate growth plans.

OIL

Not all market moves fitted with conventional wisdom.

Oil, usually the most sensitive to Middle East unrest, was on course for its biggest weekly drop since January, since the fighting in Iraq has not yet spread to the south where most of the country's oil is produced.

At $113 a barrel, prices have dropped nearly $3 from a nine-month high of $115.71 hit on June 19. "The exaggerated fear premium is being priced out," said Carsten Fritsch, a senior oil and commodities analyst at Commerzbank in Frankfurt.

Asian shares had followed Wall Street lower overnight. Japan's benchmark Nikkei fell 1.5 percent and regional markets, with the exception of Wellington and Mumbai, all posted losses.

The 10-year U.S. Treasuries yield held near a four-week low at 2.52 percent in European trading.

The U.S. dollar index also stuck tight to one-month lows reached on Wednesday. At 80.150, it stood just above its low of 80.091. The dollar also hovered around a five-week low of 101.315 yen.

The euro was little changed at $1.3618 after the euro zone data.

Standout performers were the New Zealand dollar, which was close to its highest in nearly three years on rate hike bets, and the Canadian dollar, which rose to a six-month high as investors sought out higher-yielding currencies.

Among emerging markets, Central European currencies were broadly weaker against the euro. But the Russian rouble rose to a five-month high as traders wagered that any new Western sanctions would be flimsy.

"In all honesty. I don't think that Russia will intervene further in Ukraine," said Peter Elam Hakansson, fund manager Chairman of East Capital.

"If they did, the rest of Ukraine would immediately rush to join NATO and ally with the West... That would mean they would lose any influence in Ukraine, and that is not what they want."

(Reporting by Marc Jones; Editing by Larry King)

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