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Stocks edge higher, dollar slips as Biden victory looms

NEW YORK/LONDON (Reuters) - Global stock markets edged higher and the dollar sank to a two-month low on Friday as investors awaited final vote processing in the U.S. presidential election that more and more showed Joe Biden on the verge of winning the White House.

FILE PHOTO: A statue of George Washington stands as Federal Hall across Wall Street from the New York Stock Exchange in Manhattan in New York City, New York, U.S., October 26, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo/File Photo

Treasury yields rose on better-than-expected October employment data, while oil prices slid below $40 a barrel as new lockdowns in Europe to halt the surging COVID-19 pandemic dimmed the demand outlook.

MSCI’s all-country world stock index rose 0.25% to 592.84, adding to a week-long rally in which the benchmark for global equity performance advanced almost 8% to post its best week in nearly seven months. The index also topped highs last seen in September.

In Europe, the broad pan-regional FTSEurofirst 300 index closed down 0.12% to 1,418.13, while emerging market stocks rose 0.96%.

Biden expanded narrow leads over President Donald Trump in the battleground states of Pennsylvania and Georgia, but Georgia ordered a recount that could lead to a long period of uncertainty. Biden was expected to address the nation Friday evening, in what could be a victory speech.

Stocks on Wall Street rebounded from early profit-taking from the week’s big gains to close little changed as a Biden presidency appeared inevitable and a sense of resignation settled in at the White House.

“It’s more certain that we’re going to have Biden as president and more importantly we won’t have Trump as there’s so much unpredictability with Trump,” said Tim Ghriskey, chief investment strategist at Inverness Counsel in New York.

“The unpredictability of a president makes investing in any area that he can potentially touch, like China, fraught with risk. All a sudden China is a less risky investment without Trump,” Ghriskey said.

Trump vowed to continue his legal fight and said in a statement, “I will never give up fighting for you and our nation.”

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.24%, the S&P 500 lost 0.03% and the Nasdaq Composite added 0.04%. For the week the Dow rose 6.87%, the S&P 500 7.33% and the Nasdaq 9.02%. All three posted their best weekly percentage gains since April.

But a surge in coronavirus cases, both in Europe and the United States, put a damper on the recovery outlook and investor enthusiasm that had embraced a scenario of Republicans retaining control of the Senate during a Biden administration.

“The market perhaps is starting to cheer there being some certainty to the election,” said Subadra Rajappa, head of U.S. rates strategy at Societe Generale in New York.

The 10-year U.S. Treasury note’s yield rose 4.4 basis points to 0.8218%.

“There was some skittishness to the bond market when elections were too close to call. So the risk premium associated with a prolonged election uncertainty gets priced out,” Rajappa said.

Michael Englund, chief economist at Action Economics in Boulder, Colorado, said the U.S. unemployment report raised the prospect for fourth-quarter growth, putting upward pressure on bond yields.

The U.S. unemployment rate fell to a lower-than-expected 6.9% from 7.9% in September, while growth in private payrolls blew past the consensus estimate, adding 906,000 jobs, especially in the hard hit leisure and entertainment sector.

“Overall, it was a very encouraging report. The job market is pretty broadly recovering and recovering better than most forecasters have expected,” said Russell Price, chief economist at Ameriprise Financial Services Inc in Troy, Michigan.

But a 638,000 increase in nonfarm payrolls was the smallest gain since a jobs recovery started in May, a sign the economy still needed stimulus.

Italy’s 10-year yield hit a record low of 0.603% on expectations of further stimulus.

With COVID-19 raging in the United States and parts of Europe, many investors assume more central bank stimulus is inevitable.

The Bank of England expanded its asset purchase scheme on Thursday, while the Federal Reserve kept its monetary policy loose and pledged to do whatever it takes to sustain a U.S. economic recovery. The European Central Bank is widely expected to announce more stimulus next month.

Overnight in Asia, Japan’s Nikkei average rose 0.9% to a 29-year high while MSCI’s broadest gauge of Asian Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.3%, near a three-year high..

(GRAPHIC: Stock market from Election Day to inauguration - )

In currency markets, lower yields undermined the dollar, with the dollar index touching a two-month low of 92.182. It fell 0.436%, with the euro up 0.48% to $1.1878.

The Japanese yen strengthened 0.21% versus the greenback at 103.28 per dollar.

(GRAPHIC: Dollar falls to 2-month low - )

Spot gold prices rose 0.19% to $1,952.26 an ounce. U.S. gold futures settled up 0.3% at $1,951.70.

Crude prices fell about 4% as fresh lockdowns in Europe to contain the coronavirus darkened the outlook for oil.

Brent crude futures settled down $1.48 at $39.45 a barrel. U.S. crude futures fell $1.65 to settle at $37.14 a barrel.

Reporting by Herbert Lash, additional reporting by Ross Kerber in Boston and Karen Pierog in Chicago; Editing by Dan Grebler and Tom Brown

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