Stocks lose steam at end of solid month; British pound slips

Traders work in front of the German share price index, DAX board, at the stock exchange in Frankfurt

By Richard Leong

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Major stock markets around the globe ended a solid May on a weak note on Wednesday, while the British pound fell as conflicting poll results stoked worries whether the ruling Conservatives could lose seats in next week’s UK general election.

MSCI’s global equity index <.MIWD00000PUS>, which tracks 45 stock markets, dipped 0.1 percent, paring its month-to-date gain to 1.8 percent. The index booked seven months of increases, which would be its longest monthly winning streak in over a decade.

The diminished appeal of stocks on Wednesday underpinned safe-haven bids for gold and low-risk U.S. and German government bonds.

Oil prices declined to a three-week low as news of a rebound in Libyan production exacerbated worries about a global oversupply despite OPEC’s pact to extend output cuts last week.

Despite Wednesday’s losses, hopes for an economic pickup in Europe, together with signs of stability in Japan and China and moderate U.S. growth, supported expectations for steady gains in stocks, corporate bonds and other risky assets in the near term, analysts said.

“You have some cyclical recovery in some of the major countries in Europe,” said Robert Tipp, chief market strategist at PGIM Fixed Income in Newark, New Jersey. “This should be a favorable environment for risky assets.”

The Dow Jones Industrial Average <.DJI> ended down 22.39 points, or 0.11 percent, at 21,007.08, the S&P 500 <.SPX> finished 1.12 points, or 0.05 percent, lower at 2,411.79 and the Nasdaq Composite <.IXIC> closed down 4.67 points, or 0.08 percent, at 6,198.52.

For May, the Dow gained 0.3 percent; the S&P 1.2 percent and the Nasdaq 2.5 percent.

Europe’s broad FTSEurofirst 300 index <.FTEU3> ended 0.1 percent lower, at 1,532.14. It gained 0.8 percent in May.

A sharp fall in euro zone inflation led investors to believe the European Central Bank will not be quite as hawkish at its policy meeting next week as had originally been expected.

Benchmark 10-year Treasury note yields <US10YT=RR> were down nearly 1 basis point at 2.208 percent, a near two-week low, while 10-year German Bund yields <DE10YT=RR> hit 0.286 percent, the lowest in over five weeks.

The biggest mover in currencies was sterling, which shed as much as 0.5 percent after a YouGov poll showed the ruling Conservative Party might lose 20 of the 330 seats it holds, while the opposition Labor Party could gain nearly 30 seats, in a national election next week.

Sterling fell to a six-week low of $1.2770 <GBP=D4> before recovering some ground to $1.2887. It also slipped to 0.8722 pound per euro <EURGBP=D4>, not far from Friday’s eight-week low of 0.8750.

The dollar fell 0.3 percent against a basket of currencies <.DXY> following weaker-than-forecast data on U.S. pending home sales. The dollar index fell for a third month, losing 4.1 percent during that span.

Meanwhile, the yuan <CNY=CFXS> jumped to its strongest in more than 6 months on bets the Chinese central bank is now less inclined to allow the currency to weaken markedly against the greenback.

In commodities, Brent crude <LCOc1> settled $1.53, or 2.95 percent, lower at $50.31 a barrel. U.S. crude <CLc1> settled down $1.34 or 2.70 percent at $48.32 per barrel.

Spot gold prices <XAU=> rose $9.09 or 0.72 percent, to $1,271.80 an ounce. They touched a one-month high of $1,270.47 on Tuesday.

(Additional reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak, Sam Forgione, Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss, Scott DiSavino, Devika Krishna Kumar in New York; Jamie McGeever, Ritvik Carvolho, Maytaal Angel in London; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Chizu Nomiyama)