By Sinead Carew
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Wall Street stocks fell slightly on the last trading day of February as weak U.S. growth data made investors cautious, while European shares broke multi-year records ahead of the European Central Bank’s injection next month of 60 billion euros to spur growth.
The FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares <.FTEU3> was up 0.27 percent on Friday after reaching its highest level since November, 2007. It has surged more than 14 percent this year, its strongest start since benchmarks were created in 1986.
On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> was down 35.93 points, or 0.20 percent, at 18,178.49. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index <.SPX> was down 1.09 points, or 0.05 percent, at 2,109.65. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> was down 8.49 points, or 0.17 percent, at 4,979.40.
U.S. gross domestic product expanded 2.2 percent in the fourth quarter, revised down from 2.6 percent estimated last month, the Commerce Department said. The number barely beat economists’ forecasts for 2.1 percent growth but slowed from a 5 percent rate in the third quarter.
“You are sitting at highs and obviously some bit of good news at least is built into those highs and you need something else to get you over the hump,” said Bill Stone, chief investment strategist at PNC Wealth Management in Philadelphia.
The MSCI All-Country World equity index <.MIWD00000PUS> was flat, but still up 3.8 percent since the start of the year.
Investors have bought more higher-yielding assets, such as equities, as yields on core European government bonds have tumbled into or close to negative territory ahead of the ECB’s quantitative easing program.
The ECB is expected to give details at its meeting next week on its Jan. 22 decision to embark on a securities-buying program to fend off deflation and revive Europe’s economy.
Data on Friday from some pockets of the euro zone showed inflation prospects, though still subdued, may not be as bad as previously thought. That prompted yields on top-rated government bonds to bounce from record lows.
The dollar fell slightly against a basket of major currencies but trimmed early losses against the euro and yen on the U.S. fourth-quarter growth number, which supported the view the world’s biggest economy will grow at a moderate pace.
The dollar index <.DXY> was still on track for its eighth straight month of gains, which would be its longest streak of monthly gains since the currency’s link to gold was dropped in 1971.
“It is the data, especially core inflation and durable goods, that is catching attention. We are still calling for a June rate hike and the market is not pricing that. (The markets) are looking for a hike much later. So yes, we think the dollar will outperform,” said Barclays strategist Hamish Pepper.
U.S. Treasuries prices weakened slightly after stronger-than-expected February data on U.S. consumer sentiment. The benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note was last up 1/32 in price to yield 2.0086 percent.
After settling down sharply on Thursday, crude oil futures rebounded. Brent <LCOc1> was up 2.0 percent at $ 61.26 and headed for its first monthly gain since July, helped by an improving demand outlook and supply outages. U.S. crude <CLc1> was up 1.6 percent at $ 49.94.
(Additional reporting by Emelia Sithole-Matarise in London and Chuck Mikolajczak in New York; Editing by Louise Ireland and Dan Grebler)
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