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US housing data tempers optimism in world markets

LONDON - LONDON (AP) — European stock markets rose modestly Wednesday on optimism about the recovery even as Wall Street remained flat, as downbeat housing data restrained any gains.

In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares closed up 0.8 percent, at 5,372.38 while France's CAC-40 rose 0.3 percent to 3,910. Germany's DAX was up 0.2 percent at to 5,957.44.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average was down a bare 0.02 percent at 10,462.96 at midday New York time, while the broader Standard & Poor's 500 index rose only 0.1 percent to 1,119.05.

European markets had been even higher, and Wall Street had been trading in positive territory, but downbeat U.S. housing data prompted the modest retreat.

The Commerce Department reported that sales of new homes plunged unexpectedly in November to their lowest level since April. The data contrasted equivalent figures for existing home sales, which had buoyed market sentiment over the preceding session and into Wall Street's open.

November sales fell 11 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 355,000 from a downwardly revised 400,000 in October. The consensus in the markets was for an increase to 440,000.

Earlier, the news that personal incomes in the U.S. rose by a six-month high of 0.4 percent in November while spending swelled 0.5 percent had helped sustain the advance this week.

Contrary to many expectations, stocks around the world have rallied this week — many analysts were anticipating a modest pullback as investors shut up shop for the year by booking profits accumulated during the nine-month bull market.

Earlier, China's benchmark Shanghai Composite Index rose 23.26 points, or 0.8 percent, to 3,073.78, while Sydney's S&P/ASX added 0.8 percent to 4,739.30 amid strength in coal stocks.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng reversed losses to climb 236.70, or 1.1 percent, to 21,328.74. Seoul's Kospi gained 0.4 percent to 1,661.35, while Singapore was up 0.6 percent and Taiwan's Taiex rose 0.6 percent.

Tokyo was closed for a holiday.

Oil prices rose with the benchmark January contract up $2.08 to $76.48 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

The dollar was down 0.4 percent at 91.49 yen, while the euro rose 0.7 percent to $1.4356.

The pound was also steady just below $1.60 after the minutes to the last rate-setting meeting of the Bank of England indicated that monetary policy in Britain will be left as is at least for a couple of months.

All nine members of the Monetary Policy Committee voted to keep the Bank's financial asset purchases at 200 billion pounds ($320 billion) and the benchmark interest rate unchanged at the record low of 0.5 percent.

"While it seems likely that the MPC is nearing the end of its measures to support the economy, further action is certainly possible if the recovery disappoints," said Jonathan Loynes, chief European economist at Capital Economics. "Either way, any tightening of policy remains a long way off."


AP Business Writer Joe McDonald in Beijing contributed to this report.


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