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Stocks, oil rise in festive cheer

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World stocks held near the previous day’s two-year high on Friday while oil hit fresh two-year peaks after strong US data this week encouraged investors to maintain their risk positions into 2011.

Last Thursday’s US data showing that demand for a range of long-lasting US manufactured goods surged in November and consumer spending rose for a fifth straight month reinforced expectations for strong economic growth in the fourth quarter.

“We’ve had a good run, helped by quantitative easing and better economic data,” said Bernard McAlinden, investment strategist at NCB Stockbrokers in Dublin. “We’ve broken out of ranges, and it can go higher in 2011.”

The MSCI world equity index edged higher to just below Thursday’s peak, which was its highest since September 2008, set just before the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

The index is up 9,6% this year.

Fund tracker EPFR said investor focus shifted from bonds to equities in the final weeks of 2010, with equity funds globally taking in a net $4,5 billion for the week ending December 22. Bond funds saw redemptions totaling $2,3 billion.

The Thomson Reuters global stock index dipped slightly, but the FTSEurofirst 300 index rose about 0,1%.

Ratings agency Fitch downgraded Portugal on Thursday, citing burgeoning debt levels and a tough financing environment, a move analysts said was largely expected by investors.

The downgrade puts Fitch’s rating for Portugal on a par with Moody’s A1 rating, but still two notches above that of Standard and Poor’s A-minus.

Trading was very light, with markets closed in Germany, Italy, Spain, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Greece, Austria, Hungary, and Iceland. US markets were also closed to observe the Christmas holiday. Emerging market stocks fell slightly.

US crude oil rose more than 1% to $91,41 a barrel as unusually cold weather fueled demand and depleted supplies.

Snow and more frigid temperatures were predicted in parts of Europe over the weekend, threatening to prolong chaos at airlines and rail networks and further boost fuel demand.

The bund future fell 32 ticks.

The US dollar fell less than 0,1% against a basket of major currencies, while the euro was mostly unchanged at $1,3114.

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