European shares test two-year highs, yen volatile before BOJ

LONDON (Reuters) - European shares inched towards two-year highs and German Bund futures dipped on Monday, as a political attempt to break a budget impasse in the United States revived appetite for shares and dented demand for safe-haven assets.

U.S. House Republican leaders said on Friday they would seek to pass a three-month extension of federal borrowing authority in the coming days to buy time for the Democrat-controlled Senate to pass a plan to shrink budget deficits.

European shares <.fteu3> were supported by the news <.eu>, but with no clear response from the Democrats and a thin session expected due to a market holiday in the United States, the impact on other assets such as Bunds is likely to be limited.

An early morning push by London's FTSE 100 <.ftse>, Paris's CAC-40 <.fchi> and Frankfurt's DAX <.gdaxi> was beginning to fade by mid-morning, leaving the pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 up 0.1 percent and MSCI's world index <.miwd00000pus> steady at a 20-month high. <.l><.eu/>

"There's a bit of encouragement coming out of the U.S.," said Toby Campbell-Gray, head of trading at Tavira Securities in Monaco.

He added that equity markets had remained resilient in the face of an uncertain economic outlook as many investors had stepped in to buy "on the dip" on days when shares had fallen.

Ahead of the region's first finance ministers' meeting of the year, the euro was down slightly at just over $1.33 against the dollar, while the yen firmed after touching a new low, ahead of a Bank of Japan decision expected to deliver bold monetary easing.

According to sources familiar with the Bank of Japan's thinking, the government of new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the central bank have agreed to set 2 percent inflation as a new target, supplanting a softer 1 percent 'goal'.

The dollar rose to as high as 90.25 yen earlier on Monday, its highest since June 2010. It later slipped 0.7 percent on the day to 89.39 yen, as traders cut short positions given the BOJ has often fallen short of market expectations.

"Investors are being mindful that the moves we have seen over the course of the last month or two are just worth locking in at least until we understand how the BOJ are really going to play in the future," said Jeremy Stretch, head of currency strategy at CIBC World Markets.


Japanese equities have surged in recent weeks in anticipation of a more aggressive monetary policy stance, but not everyone is happy.

The slump in the yen has prompted Russia's deputy central bank governor to warn of a new round of 'currency wars' and the medium-term risk of running ultra-loose monetary policies is likely to be a theme of the World Economic Forum in Davos, which opens on Wednesday.

With little in the way of economic data or debt issuance and U.S. markets shut for the Martin Luther King public holiday, the rest of the day was expected to be a fairly quite day for investors.

In bond markets, German Bund yields rose close to the top of this year's 30 basis points range, after Republican lawmakers' efforts to give the U.S. government leeway to pay its bills for another three months. Most other euro zone bonds were trading virtually flat.

The U.S. Treasury needs congressional authorisation to raise the current $16.4 trillion limit on U.S. debt sometime between mid-February and early March. A failure to achieve that could lead to a debt default.

"This is part of the political game, it remains to be seen whether the Democrats will accept it," KBC strategist Piet Lammens said, adding that investors' working scenario was that a solution to raise the ceiling would be eventually found anyway.


German markets showed no reaction after the country's centre-left opposition party edged Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives from power in a regional election on Sunday, reviving its flagging hopes for September's national election.

Oil prices took their cues from a report in the United States at the end of last week that showed consumer sentiment at its weakest in a year as a result of the uncertainty surrounding the country's debt crisis.

Concerns about demand overshadowed supply disruption fears reinforced by the Islamist militant attack and hostage-taking at a gas plant in Algeria, a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

Brent futures were down by 17 cents to $111.72 per barrel by 1030 GMT. U.S. crude shed 40 cents to $95.16 per barrel after touching a four-month high last week.

"The over-riding fundamental feeling in the market is that crude oil is over-supplied in 2013," said Tony Nunan, an oil risk manager at Mitsubishi.

Last week's data showing a pick-up in the Chinese economy helped keep growth-sensitive copper prices steady at roughly $8,058 an ounce. Gold, meanwhile, reversed Friday's losses to stand at $1,688 an ounce.

(Additional reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta, Marious Zaharia and Anooja Debnath; Editing by Will Waterman and Giles Elgood)

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