Global stocks top 2016 gains, dollar up before Fed minutes

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Global stocks hit record highs on Wednesday, pushing gains for the year above those for all of 2016, while the dollar rose before Federal Reserve minutes that will be scoured for clues on the timing of the next U.S. interest rate rise. European shares followed Asian bourses higher, buoyed by all main indexes on Wall Street touching record closing highs on Tuesday. Relatively strong earnings seasons in Europe and the United States, forecast-beating economic data and U.S. President Donald Trump's promises of tax reform, less regulation and more infrastructure spending have all helped lift stock markets. MSCI's main index of global stocks , which tracks share prices across 46 countries, hit a second successive record high. It has risen some 5.7 percent so far this year, beating the 5.6 percent gains of 2016. The pan-European STOXX 600 index rose 0.1 percent on Wednesday. Britain's Lloyds Banking Group was up 3 percent after reporting its highest full-year profit in a decade. MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.6 percent. Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 0.9 percent but Japan's Nikkei <. N225. bucked the trend, closing marginally lower as the yen strengthened. The day's most anticipated event for markets will be the release of the minutes of the Fed's last policy meeting. Fed Chair Janet Yellen said last week it was likely the central bank would need to raise rates at an upcoming meeting. Markets have priced in only a slim chance of a rise next month but a much greater likelihood in May or June. The dollar rose 0.2 percent against a basket of major currencies and 0.3 percent versus the euro.

The single European currency has suffered recently on investor worries about European politics, particularly the performance in opinion polls of French anti-euro, far-right party leader Marine Le Pen before presidential elections in April and May."This is politics as well as markets increasingly betting on an imminent rate hike by the Fed," said Commerzbank strategist Thu Lan Nguyen. "Volatility is rising as investors start to prepare for the elections." Sterling dipped 0.1 percent to $1.2448 after revised data showed the UK economy grew at its fastest pace in a year in the last three months of 2016 but by less than previously estimated for the whole of 2016. The pound rose 0.1 percent to 84.4 pence per euro. Euro/sterling closed below its 200-day moving average, a long-term gauge watched closely by fund managers, on Tuesday for the first time since December 2015. The yen rose 0.4 percent to 113.30 per dollar.

GAP WIDENS European politics and the prospect of higher U.S. rates pushed the gap between short-dated U.S. and German benchmark government bond yields to its widest in nearly 17 years. German two-year yields hit a record low of minus 0.9 percent while U.S. equivalents touched 1.24 percent.

Analysts said jitters over the French elections have stoked demand for top-quality German debt. Bottlenecks caused by the European Central Bank's bond-buying program and upcoming regulatory changes have amplified the decline the yields. "There are a host of special factors driving two-year German bond yields lower and on the other side of the Atlantic we have the Fed contemplating another hike, which is driving up U.S. equivalents," ING strategist Martin van Vliet said. Oil prices dipped. Brent crude, the international benchmark, traded at $56.50 a barrel, down 17 cents. Copper also fell, as traders reduced their positions before the Fed minutes, though supply disruptions supported prices. The metal last traded at $6,030 a tonne, down 0.5 percent on the day. Gold edged up 0.1 percent to $1,236 an ounce. For Reuters Live Markets blog on European and UK stock markets see this site/url=this site