World stocks edge up as US budget talks continue
BANGKOK — World stock markets eked out only marginal gains Friday as an immediate agreement among U.S. leaders to resolve a critical budget deadlock appeared unlikely.
Britain's FTSE 100 was marginally higher at 5,871.62 Germany's DAX rose 0.1 percent to 7,411.37. France's CAC-40 gained 0.1 percent to 3,572.42.
Wall Street appeared headed toward a flat open, with Dow Jones industrial futures rising less than 0.1 percent to 13,025. S&P 500 futures were nearly unchanged at 1,415.80.
Asian stock markets were boosted earlier by signs of improvement in the world's No. 1 economy. The U.S. Commerce Department raised its estimate of third-quarter growth to an annual rate of 2.7 percent — much better than the 2 percent rate estimated a month ago.
Additionally, the number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits dropped by 23,000 to 393,000 last week, the Labor Department said. The figures were in line with expectations.
Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.5 percent to 22,030.39 and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 advanced 0.6 percent to 4,506. South Korea's Kospi fell 0.1 percent to 1,932.90. Benchmarks in Taiwan, Singapore, mainland China and New Zealand also rose. Indonesia fell.
The U.S. government figures come on top of recent China manufacturing data that shows its economic recovery is gaining momentum and renewed confidence in Europe's ability to tackle a debt crisis in Greece.
Lorraine Tan, director at Standard & Poor's equity research in Singapore, said stocks have been on the upswing thanks to big-picture data pointing toward a less risky global economic environment for next year.
"Asian markets are relatively attractive. Equity markets in general are relatively attractive. I think some money is coming back on expectations that growth is going to be not as bad as anticipated despite the fiscal cliff," she said.
"The outlook is still for very sluggish growth into next year," Tan said. "But the perception is that the risk of a deeper slowdown has come off a bit."
Meanwhile, the release of an 880.3 billion yen ($10.7 billion) stimulus package by the Japanese government helped boost the Nikkei 225 index in Tokyo. The benchmark rose 0.5 percent to close at 9,446.01.
Investors also have been tracking the talks between the White House and Congress over the "fiscal cliff," a reference to sharp government spending cuts and tax increases scheduled to start Jan. 1 unless a deal is reached to cut the budget deficit.
Economists have been warning that failure to resolve the issue will hurt the U.S. economy, the world's largest.
Analysts said the focus of attention will likely remain on the U.S. in coming weeks, especially now that countries that use the euro and the International Monetary Fund have agreed to carry on funding nearly bankrupt Greece.
No major progress was reported after testy talks in Washington on Thursday, with Republican House Speaker John Boehner rebuffing a proposal by President Barack Obama because it lacked "sensible spending cuts."
The tenor of the remarks suggested the hard bargaining was about to begin. Four weeks remain before the year-end deadline and negotiations such as these often don't gel until time is running out.
Among individual stocks, Japan's Hitachi Ltd. rose 4.2 percent Nikon Corp. rose 4.5 percent.
Australian miner Lynas Corp. fell 5.2 percent. The company earlier announced the start of operations at a rare earths plant in northern Malaysia that has drawn sharp opposition from groups concerned about health and safety.
Benchmark oil for January delivery was down 25 cents to $87.82 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose $1.58 to close at $88.07 on Thursday on the Nymex.
In currencies, the euro rose to $1.3011 from $1.2972 Thursday in New York. The dollar rose to 82.66 yen from 82.15 yen.
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