Oil prices above $40, European shares bounce back

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[March 09, 2016]  By Dhara Ranasinghe

LONDON (Reuters) - Oil prices rose above $40 a barrel on Wednesday, helping lift European stock markets back towards recent one-month peaks and taking the edge off global growth concerns for now.

U.S. stock market futures pointed to a firm start for Wall Street, a day after weak Chinese trade data and a tumble in oil prices rekindled growth fears and knocked the S&P 500 stock index  down more than 1 percent.

Against this backdrop, yields on safe-haven government bonds in the United States and Europe rose, while the euro weakened ahead of Thursday's keenly-anticipated European Central Bank meeting.

Oil prices rallied on speculation that the world's largest exporters could agree this month to freeze production and help erode the largest global build in unwanted crude in years.

Brent crude futures  rose 68 cents to $40.33 a barrel by 1050 GMT, having touched three-month highs on Tuesday above $41, while U.S. crude futures were up 54 cents at $37.03.

London copper prices also steadied a day after suffering their biggest one-day drop since November on weak Chinese data.

The rebound in commodity and oil prices, which fell about 3 percent on Tuesday, supported sentiment in stock markets.

Blue-chip stock markets in London, Paris and Frankfurt  were all firmly in positive territory, while the broader European share market rose 0.8 percent.

"Volatility in stock markets is very high and you can see that today with a recovery in European share markets, which we can put down to the stabilization in oil prices," said Ipek Ozkardeskaya, a market analyst at London Capital Group.

In Asia, Chinese shares  closed more than 1 percent lower, while MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell 0.3 percent, down 1.4 percent from a two-month high hit on Monday.

Japan's Nikkei ended the day down 0.8 percent, its lowest close in a week.

Lingering anxiety about China following Tuesday's poor trade numbers also weighed on emerging market stocks, which slipped for a second straight day.

China's February trade performance was far worse than economists had expected, with exports tumbling the most in over six years.

"Investors are once again focused towards the scanty economic data over in China and the anxiety is if the People's Bank of China has the right tools to help the recovery," said Naeem Aslam, chief market analyst at AvaTrade.

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A moderately risk-averse tone dominated currency markets, with the safe-haven yen broadly higher amid anxiety about China.

The yen  was 0.25 percent firmer at 112.37 per dollar and was up 0.5 percent against the euro at 123.35.

The People's Bank of China set the yuan's midpoint rate at 6.5106 per dollar prior to market open, weaker than the previous fix. The currency opened stronger at 6.5062 but has since weakened to 6.5124.

The euro meanwhile slipped 0.5 percent to around $1.0961 ahead of the ECB's policy meeting on Thursday.

Financial markets expect the ECB to cut its deposit rate by at least 10 basis points and expand its asset-buying program.

With so much priced in, however, some traders are primed for a repeat of the sharp gains in the euro seen in December when the ECB's measures fell short of market expectations.

"The poor Chinese data is fuelling risk aversion, but that is slowly giving way to some positioning adjustment before the ECB meeting," said Niels Christensen, FX strategist at Nordea.

"Given expectations are so high that the ECB will ease policy, there is a chance that it could fall short and we could see a bounce in the euro," he said.

Ahead of the ECB, the Bank of Canada will announce a policy decision later on Wednesday. The central bank is expected to hold interest rates at 0.50 percent.

(Additional reporting by Anirban Nag and Amanda Cooper; Editing by Toby Chopra)

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