By Toby Sterling
AMSTERDAM -- World stocks shrugged off worries over political turmoil in Egypt and rallied strongly Thursday on optimism that easy monetary policy from central banks in Europe is set to continue for some time to come. U.S. markets were closed for Independence Day.
The biggest gains were in Britain, where the Bank of England surprised markets after its first monetary policy meeting held under new governor Mark Carney. It said afterward that expectations it would raise rates in coming months were unwarranted, despite the improving economic backdrop.
Meanwhile, the European Central Bank kept rates at record low rates in light of the eurozone's ongoing recession, with President Mario Draghi for the first time saying they will remain there "for an exended period of time."Stocks surged after each statement. Britain's FTSE 100 index jumped 3.1% to close at 6,421.67 while Germany's DAX rose 2.1% to 7,994.31. France's CAC 40 gained 2.9% to 3,809.31. The central bank statements contributed to strong declines in the euro and British pound against the dollar. Looser monetary policies tend to weaken a currency as low interest rates mean lower returns on investments and more attractive opportunities can be found elsewhere. The euro fell 0.7% to $1.2916, while the British pound fell 1.4% to $1.5066. Financial shares were among the strongest gainers, with Royal Bank of Scotland PLC stock rising 5.1%, Barclays PLC up 4.7% and HSBC PLC up 4.6%. "Global markets stormed ahead today as ... Draghi confirmed that interest rates will be kept at current record lows or even further lowered in order to inject more liquidity into struggling eurozone nations," said Spreadex trader Shavaz Dhalla in a note on markets. However, "there is still the concern that volumes are thin today owing to the U.S market being closed." Earlier in Asia, Hong Kong's Hang Seng index was the strongest gainer, rising 1.6% to 20,468.67. China's Shanghai Composite rose 0.6% to 2,006.10. Tokyo's Nikkei 225 bucked the trend, slipping 0.3% to 14,018.93, despite remarks from Bank of Japan governor Haruhiko Kuroda that the country's economy is headed for recovery. The dollar gained 0.2% against the yen, passing the 100-yen mark to 100.06 yen. Mike McCudden, head of derivatives at Interactive Investor, noted that while physical exchanges are closed in the U.S., futures are still trading, and they indicate Wednesday's rally on the back of economic data has continued, with Dow Jones Industrial Index futures now trading above 15,000. The index closed at 14,988.50 Wednesday. "Whether this can be sustained will clearly be reflected by what's happening on a global basis," he said in a note on markets. "The situation in Egypt remains hugely sensitive, whilst resurgent eurozone woes could knock sentiment." Investors around the world were also keeping a close watch on the oil price, which has passed $100 per barrel due to Wednesday's events in the Middle East: Egypt's military overthrew Mohammed Morsi, the country's first democratically elected president, after he defied calls to resign despite the demands of millions of protesters. Egypt is not an oil producer but its control of the Suez canal -- one of the world's busiest shipping lanes, which links the Mediterranean with the Red Sea -- gives it a crucial role in maintaining global energy supplies. High energy costs act as a drag on economic growth, but oil has eased somewhat from its Wednesday highs and was down 25 cents to $100.99. The Bank of England and ECB statements also led to lower government bond yields in Southern Europe, where fears have been brewing that a crisis in Portugal's governing coalition could bring Europe's debt crisis back to a boil. "These actions should help limit increases in bond yields in the U.K. and Europe, even as Treasury yields grind higher amid Fed tapering speculation," said BMO Economist Benjamin Reitzes. Over the past few weeks, markets have sputtered amid speculation that the U.S. Federal Reserve might taper off its policy of buying $85 billion in bonds every month to keep interest rates low and encourage spending. But on Wednesday, unemployment and jobs data out of the U.S. were just right for stocks, analysts said: good enough to restore confidence that the U.S. economic recovery is continuing, but not so good that the Fed is likely to pull back on stimulus. "We have had a period of extreme volatility, and now we have some settling going on," said Lorraine Tan, director at Standard & Poor's equity research in Singapore. "I think there's a realization that the reaction may have been overdone." Kay Johnson in Bangkok and Pan Pylas in London contributed to this report.