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Premarket: Stocks ride tech boom, bat aside politics to scale new high

A man walks past an electronic board showing Hong Kong share index outside a local bank in Hong Kong, Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017. Asian stocks rose after Wall Street hit new highs.

Vincent Yu/AP

World shares scaled yet another record high on Wednesday, propelled higher by a bullish growth and company earnings outlook, as well as investors' unflagging enthusiasm for technology stocks.

Emerging markets too were on a roll, lifted by a weaker dollar and inflows into Asian assets, with little sign of spillover from Turkey where the lira plumbed a new record low.

With oil prices approaching a 2-1/2-year top and global tech making more gains, world stocks have taken just nine days to surpass their previous record peak, while MSCI's emerging markets index touched new six-year highs Ipek Ozkardeskaya, senior analyst at asset manager London Capital Group, noted markets had also shrugged off doubts that the U.S. President Donald Trump would be able to pull off promised tax reform.

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"There is some optimism in world equity markets," Ozkardeskaya said.

"(But) we can't say the rally will fade soon because if you look at volatility measures there are signs of no anxiety in the market," she added, referring to the VIX index – known as Wall Street's "fear gauge" which fell to around two-week lows.

A key feature of the rally has been all things tech, with the S&P technology index closing 1.2 per cent higher on Tuesday, helping all three Wall Street indexes to record highs.

That has fed through to Hong Kong's Hang Seng index which added around 1 per cent to vault past the 30,000-point level for the first time in 10 years. Hong Kong-listed Tencent has leapt past Facebook this week to become the world's fifth-most valuable company.

The mood was slightly less buoyant on European shares which opened flat to marginally firmer. Britain's FTSE benchmark rose 0.2 per cent just before finance minister Philip Hammond presents a crucial budget to a country facing faltering economic growth.

Investors have so far shrugged off U.S. rate rises, President Donald Trump's inability so far to pass promised tax reforms, Britain's looming European Union exit and Germany's post-election political impasse.

Instead they have cited the strengthening global economy, booming trade and company earnings which are growing around 10-15 per cent.

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Goldman Sachs for instance raised its earnings estimate for S&P 500 companies in 2018 and 2019, citing the expected U.S. tax reform, above-trend global and U.S. economic growth and slowly rising interest rates from a low base.

But some money managers are starting to feel the jitters as the bullish consensus grows.

"A low volatility ... with rather an extreme positioning is a dangerous combination, which we recently likened to dancing on the rim of a volcano," French investment house Société Générale told clients, predicting the S&P 500 will fall back to 2,000 by 2019 from 2,599 now.

SHAPING UP

So far the impending December rate hike by the U.S. Federal Reserve and expectations of more tightening in 2018 have not soured the mood and nor have markets interpreted the recent flattening of the U.S. bond curve as a warning signal.

The dollar pulled back 0.2 per cent against a basket of currencies, partly because of sagging long-dated yields as the Treasury yield curve remained at the flattest in a decade.

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With inflation not considered a risk and demand strong for longer-dated higher-yielding debt, 10-year U.S. yields inched lower to 2.35 per cent. But two-year yields touched the highest since 2008, surpassing two-year Australian yields for instance for the first time since 2000.

The yield curve in Germany, the euro zone's benchmark government bond issuer, flattened to its lowest in more than two months, catching up with the U.S. curve.

Morgan Stanley analysts said flattening curves were not cause for concern just yet.

"Those looking at U.S. yield curve flatness as a potential bearish risk factor may be reminded that during the last 30 years, it has taken at least a year after the initial inversion before the recession set in," they told clients.

On other currencies, the euro edged higher for a second straight day, recouping more than half of its losses sustained after the German coalition collapse as investors bought priced in strong economic growth.

The pound firmed marginally before the budget speech, though analysts expect negative reaction to be muted as the currency has weakened around 12 per cent against the dollar since Britain's June 2016 vote to leave the EU.

"Sterling is still very cheap and still reacts more to good than to bad news as a result," SocGen analysts wrote.

Fears are growing however for Turkey where expectations are growing of emergency central bank action to counter the lira's slide to record lows.

Commodity markets too are benefited from the improved global growth outlook, with copper futures rising to two-week highs . Oil prices too jumped, with Brent crude up almost $1 a barrel due to cuts in piped Canadian crude and expectations of a prolonged OPEC-led production cut.

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