GLOBAL MARKETS-Stocks scale fresh peaks on slowing virus, dollar gains

(Adds U.S. market open, byline, dateline; previous LONDON)

* Tracking the coronavirus:

* Wall Street, pan-regional European indexes hit records

* China’s Xi says committed to 2020 growth target

* Euro holds near 3-year lows, gold above $1600 an ounce

By Herbert Lash

NEW YORK, Feb 19 (Reuters) – The dollar gained while U.S. and European equity indexes scaled fresh peaks on Wednesday after China reported another decline in new coronavirus cases and on expectations of Chinese stimulus to counter a slowdown in growth.

Big manufacturing hubs on the Chinese coast are loosening curbs on the movement of people and traffic while local governments prod factories to restart production, a sign of reviving economic activity investors are watching closely.

China is widely expected to cut its benchmark lending rate on Thursday, according to a survey of traders and analysts, after the country’s central bank lowered the interest rate on medium-term loans earlier this week.

The death toll from the coronavirus climbed above 2,000, but the number of newly reported cases fell for a second day to the lowest since January, news that lifted Asian shares and spurred U.S. and European stocks to new highs.

“The coronavirus is the top headline these days and the growth in new cases, evidently, has slowed,” said Tim Ghriskey, chief investment strategist at Inverness Counsel.

“Perhaps we’ve seen the worst of it, at least in terms of the growth rate of new cases,” he said.

A couple of auto companies evidently restarted production in China, which is another good sign for the economy as it means workers are heading back to factories, Ghriskey said.

A index of equity performance across the globe, the main indexes on Wall Street and two pan-regional indexes in Europe all climbed to new highs, as did the key index in Canada.

MSCI’s gauge of stocks across the globe gained 0.48% while its emerging market index rose 0.69%.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index rose 0.76%.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 138.99 points, or 0.48%, to 29,371.18, the S&P 500 gained 19.34 points, or 0.57%, to 3,389.63 and the Nasdaq Composite added 90.99 points, or 0.93%, to 9,823.73.

Overnight, MSCI’s index of Asian shares outside Japan rose 0.5%. Japan’s Nikkei benchmark gained almost 1%, helped by the retreat of the Japanese yen.

The dollar climbed to near a three-year high against a basket of other currencies and the safe-haven yen sank to a nine-month low on news of an apparent decline in the infection rate for the coronavirus and strong U.S. data.

U.S. homebuilding fell less than expected in January while permits surged to a near 13-year high, pointing to sustained housing market strength that could help keep the longest economic expansion in American history on track.

The dollar index rose 0.21%, with the euro up 0.02% to $1.0793.

The yen weakened 1.20% versus the greenback at 111.22 per dollar.

The price of Brent crude rose for a seventh consecutive day after demand worries eased with a slowing of new coronavirus cases in China and supply was curtailed by a U.S. move to cut more Venezuelan crude from the market.

Brent rose $1.41 to $59.16 a barrel. The global benchmark is up nearly 10% since falling last week to its lowest this year. U.S. oil gained $1.08 to $53.13 a barrel.

U.S. Treasury yields edged higher as expectations China will take more steps to bolster its economy boosted risk taking, and after U.S. economic data beat economists’ expectations.

Edward Park, chief investment officer at Brooks Macdonald, cited President Xi Jinping’s latest commitment to meeting 2020 growth targets.

“This in itself implies there will be more fiscal and monetary stimulus,” Park said. “That’s the real carrot for markets today.”

Benchmark 10-year notes last fell 3/32 in price to yield 1.5644%.

Gold rose, holding above $1,600 per ounce.

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