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European stocks rise after festive break

Europe’s main stock markets rise as traders focus on whether the United States will avert the 2013 “fiscal cliff”.

EUROPE’S MAIN STOCK markets rose today following the festive break and a rally in Tokyo, as traders focused on whether the United States would avert the 2013 “fiscal cliff” of tax hikes and spending cuts.

In late morning deals, London’s FTSE 100 index of top companies was up 0.18 percent at 5,964.74 points compared with the close on Monday, its previous trading session.

The Paris CAC 40 grew 0.64 percent to 3,675.99, also compared with Monday’s close, while in Frankfurt the DAX 30 climbed 0.24 percent to 7,654.21 points compared with its previous trading session last Friday.

In foreign exchange deals, the euro grew to $1.3275 from $1.3223 late in New York on Wednesday. Gold prices edged higher to $1,657.75 an ounce on the London Bullion Market from $1,655.25 on Monday.

“With most major stock markets returning from their Christmas break for a full day of trading, the spotlight will be once again on Washington where politicians will give it one more go to hammer out a deal which would avoid the US going over the fiscal cliff,” said ETX Capital trader Markus Huber.

“Overall, even as chances of a last minute deal are diminishing quickly, not everybody is willing to bet just yet that the US will be going over the cliff.”

European stocks rose despite overnight falls on Wall Street as investors fretted over the looming deadline for a series of tax hikes and spending cuts worth some $600 billion (€452 billion) due to take effect in January.

US lawmakers were to return to the negotiating table after the Christmas holidays in a last-ditch effort to reach a deal, with experts warning that going over the cliff could drive the world’s biggest economy back into recession.

The Treasury Department on Wednesday said the government would hit its legal borrowing limit by Monday, setting in motion emergency measures to keep the government operating for several more weeks.

The Treasury’s manoeuvring is designed to put off until February or March the prospect of a full-blown debt crisis, indicating that the US budget wrangling could continue well into 2013.

“The fiscal cliff continues to figure as the central worry within market considerations,” said Joshua Mahony, research analyst at Alpari trading group.

Asian stock markets closed higher on Thursday, with Tokyo scaling a 21-month high thanks to a weaker yen, traders said.

Tokyo’s benchmark Nikkei 225 index climbed 0.91 percent to 10,322.98 points, the highest level since March 11 last year when a massive quake struck Japan, sparking a tsunami and the worst atomic crisis in a generation.

The dollar rose to its highest level in more than two years against the yen as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office, raising expectations that the Bank of Japan would initiate more aggressive monetary easing under his leadership.

A weaker yen boosts Japan’s exporters, helping to lift their share prices.

Europe’s main stock markets have meanwhile enjoyed strong gains over the year, largely thanks to a late 2012 rally on signs that the eurozone debt crisis was being tackled effectively.

Frankfurt has surged almost 30 percent this year, while Paris has gained 16 percent and London seven percent in value.

In a reminder however that deep problems remain, shares in Spain’s bailed-out lender Bankia plunged on Thursday after banking authorities said it had a negative of value of €4.148 billion ($5.5 billion).

Shares in Bankia, which is at the heart of a crisis in the bad-loan ridden Spanish banking system, slumped 13.27 percent to 59.5 cents in morning trade.

Madrid’s main IBEX 35 shares index was down 0.11 percent at 8,290.70 points. Spain’s stock market has meanwhile fallen by about 3.0 percent compared with the start of the year.

- © AFP, 2012

Read: Holiday’s over: Obama returns to Washington to deal with ‘fiscal cliff’