Markets brush off China growth concerns

A container ship berths in Qingdao port, east China's Shandong province on July 10, 2013. China's trade surplus fell 14 percent in June as imports and exports both dropped unexpectedly, data showed on July 10, suggesting a further slowdown in the Asian economic giant as Beijing warned of "grave challenges". CHINA OUT AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images) AFP

LONDON The U.S. Federal Reserve's vow to support the U.S. economy for as long as needed continued to shore up sentiment in global markets Friday despite growing concerns over the scale of the slowdown in China.

This week has been largely positive in stock markets, especially after Fed chairman Ben Bernanke said on Wednesday that the U.S. needs "highly accommodative monetary policy" -- or low interest rates -- "for the foreseeable future." The S&P 500 index closed Thursday at a fresh all-time high as investor fears that the central bank will pull back on its economic stimulus too quickly were eased. The Fed is buying $85 billion a month in bonds to keep interest rates low and to encourage spending and hiring.

"Equities are still subject to the positive bias established by Bernanke's comments," said David White, a trader at Spreadex.

In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading 100 shares was up 0.3 percent at 6,564 while Germany's rose 0.8 percent to 8,225. The CAC-40 in France was 0.2 percent to 3,875.

Wall Street was poised for a steady opening -- both Dow futures and the S&P 500 futures were down 0.1 percent.

Meanwhile, the dollar continued to stabilize, with the euro trading 0.3 percent down at $1.3049 and the dollar 0.1 percent higher at 99.05 yen. The dollar suffered widespread selling after Bernanke's comments as investors priced in a growing likelihood that the Fed's monetary policy will remain loose for the time being. Looser monetary policy tends to weaken a country's currency.

While the main focus in markets during the latter part of the week has been on the Fed, investors have a number of other issues to contend with, notably the state of the Chinese economy, the world's second-largest.

Surprisingly weak trade figures earlier this week raised the prospect that China's slowdown will be sharper than anticipated as China's central bank tightens credit to reduce financial distortions. China releases April-June growth figures on Monday morning and that could well determine trading next week and the mood ahead the release was nervous -- the main index in Shanghai fell 1.6 percent to 2,134.50.

"China could be a cloud on the horizon after the finance minister suggested that growth could come in at 7 percent for this year, which is below the government's official forecast as well as a whole host of others," said Michael Hewson, senior market analyst at CMC Markets.

Europe's debt crisis also remains in the spotlight amid ongoing concerns over the Portuguese government and whether the country may need another bailout.

However, the overall European concerns have been contained somewhat this week by the news that Greece has managed to get its next batch of bailout cash without too much trouble -- certainly in comparison with other discussions with its creditors.

Investors got some further relief Friday with a broadly positive assessment of Ireland's public finances by the Standard & Poor's ratings agency. S&P said there is "more than one-in-three probability that Ireland could over-achieve its fiscal targets and reduce its government debt faster than we currently expect." As a result, it revised its outlook on Ireland's BBB+ rating to positive.

Earlier in Asia, Japan's Nikkei 225 index closed up 0.2 percent at 14,506.25 while Hong Kong's Hang Seng dropped 0.8 percent to 21,277.28. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 was up 0.2 percent at 4,973.0.

The price of oil fell slightly Friday, extending losses below $105 a barrel after a report from the International Energy Agency said supplies would exceed an expected rise in demand next year. The benchmark New York rate was down 24 cents at $104.67 a barrel.

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