Dollar rallies, stocks slip on European concerns

By Herbert Lash

NEW YORK (BestGrowthStock) – The dollar rose to a 6-1/2-month high against the euro on Friday and U.S. stocks (Read more about the stock market today. ) fell as concerns about the fiscal health of several euro zone countries raised an aversion to risk among investors.

News that the U.S. economy grew at the fastest pace in more than six years in the fourth quarter also lifted the dollar, boosting views the United States was recovering faster than other developed countries.

Data showing the U.S. economy grew at a 5.7 percent annual rate raised expectations the U.S. Federal Reserve could hike interest rates before the European Central Bank.

Investors also remained concerned about the fiscal health of Greece, Spain and Portugal, helping push the euro below $1.39 for the first time since early July.

Many markets ended lower in January, which often proves to be a harbinger for the rest of the year. A slide in many markets last January belied that historical indicator after stocks and other assets rallied strongly for much of the year.

MSCI’s all-country index of global stocks fell 0.8 percent on Friday, and about 4.4 percent in January.

U.S. stocks (Read more about the stock market today. ) pulled back from early gains even as Greek and European Union officials said there was no chance of a Greek default or EU bailout.

“Sovereign debt issues continue to weigh on the market,” said Robert Francello, head of equity trading for Apex Capital in San Francisco.

“The pattern has been to sell into the weekend, wait for sovereign risk and sovereign default news in Europe and if it doesn’t happen, the relief rally begins.”

The Dow Jones industrial average (.DJI: ) closed down 53.13 points, or 0.52 percent, at 10,067.33. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index (.SPX: ) fell 10.66 points, or 0.98 percent, at 1,073.87. The Nasdaq Composite Index (.IXIC: ) slid 31.65 points, or 1.45 percent, at 2,147.35.

Commodity markets, especially copper and oil, ended January with their worst losses in more than a year as the surging dollar and weak demand outlook caused prices to stumble after a strong run in 2009.

The Reuters-Jefferies CRB index (.CRB: ), a commodities bellwether that tracks prices across 19 futures markets, ended the month down about 6 percent — its worst loss since November 2008, when it fell almost 10 percent.

Oil prices fell below $73 a barrel, marking a more than 8 percent loss for the month, as lagging energy demand outweighed stronger-than-expected U.S. economic data.

U.S. oil for March delivery fell 75 cents to settle at $72.89 a barrel, down $6.47 versus the end-December close.

In London, ICE Brent crude for March fell 67 cents to settle at $71.46 a barrel.

Copper suffered its worst monthly losses since December 2008.

Gold also fell, marking a third straight week of declines, as the resurgent dollar and uncertainty over a U.S. proposal to limit risk taking by some banks damped sentiment.

U.S. April futures settled down $1 at $1,083.80 an ounce in New York.

U.S. Treasuries rose on month-end position-squaring, nervousness about the fiscal situation of some European nations and expectations the U.S. economy would grow at a slower pace than the torrid rate in the fourth quarter of 2009.

The benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note rose 12/32 in price to yield 3.59 percent.

Asia Pacific stocks outside Japan as measured by MSCI (.MIAPJ0000PUS: ) fell 1.62 percent to a two-month low, while Japan’s Nikkei average (.N225: ) fell 2 percent to a six-week closing low.

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(Reporting by Ellis Mnyandu, Wanfeng Zhou, Richard Leong and Robert Gibbons in New York; Brian Gorman and Ian Chua in London; writing by Herbert Lash; Editing by Leslie Adler and Diane Craft)

Dollar rallies, stocks slip on European concerns