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World stocks at record high, oil up on strong China, U.S. data

Global stocks hit a record high on Friday and oil climbed after strong U.S. and Chinese economic data bolstered expectations of a solid global recovery from the coronavirus-induced slump.

Government stimulus, a string of strong corporate earnings releases and the signs of economic recovery in countries ahead in the COVID-19 vaccination race have all helped push stock markets onto new heights in recent days.

"As the economic re-opening accelerates in the coming months, we believe the bull market remains on a solid footing," said Mark Haefele, chief investment officer, UBS Global Wealth Management.

MSCI's broadest gauge of world stocks edged higher in early European trade, up 0.1% to a record high. Europe's top indexes all opened higher, led by Britain's FTSE 100, up 0.5% and passing 7,000 points for the first time since February 2020.

U.S. stock futures pointed to a slightly lower open, with S&P futures down 0.1% and Nasdaq futures down 0.2%

Overnight, Asian markets had tracked a path similar to Europe's. MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was last up 0.5%, with Shanghai shares adding 0.8% and Japan's Nikkei up 0.1%.

Driving the move was Chinese data showing record 18.3% growth in the first quarter, though the reading slightly undershot expectations. Retail sales bounced strongly last month.

"We remain focused on a China-led rebound steadily helping the Asia-Pacific region," said Sebastien Galy, senior macro strategist at Nordea Asset Management.

"As the U.S. economy and then European economies open up, it should further help Asian exports. This should support Emerging Market and APAC equities as well as China equities and fixed income."

Despite the punchy GDP number, gains were tempered by the view that Beijing will act to rein in the brisk expansion later in the year to stop the economy overheating.

The strong Chinese data had followed similarly upbeat numbers out of the United States overnight. Retail sales rebounded 9.8% in March, pushing the level of sales 17.1% above its pre-pandemic level to a record high.

The brightening economic prospects were underscored by other data, including first-time claims for unemployment benefits, which tumbled last week to the lowest level since March 2020.

All of which helped oil prices push on, hitting one-month highs thanks to the economic data and higher demand forecasts from the International Energy Agency (IEA) and OPEC.

Brent futures were last up 0.3% at $67.13 per barrel. U.S. crude was 0.2% higher at $63.59 per barrel, both on course for their first substantial weekly gains in six.

Despite the strong data, U.S. bond yields dropped, in part driven by buying from Japan, which began a new financial year this month. The 10-year U.S. Treasuries yield hovered near its five-week low of 1.589%.

"We retain a modest short position in U.S. rates and would be inclined to add to this should yields drop towards 1.5% on the 10-year part of the yield curve," said Mark Dowding, chief investment officer at BlueBay Asset Management.

In the currency market, lower U.S. yields were a drag on the dollar overnight, although the dollar index had recovered to trade flat early in the European session.

The euro was flat at $1.1973, having hit a six-week high of $1.19935 overnight. The pound was down 0.2% at $1.3755.

Gold bounced off session lows to trade up 0.1% at $1,766, just off its seven-week high of $1,769 per ounce

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