July 20, 2020 / 7:14 PM / 21 days ago

GLOBAL MARKETS-Equity markets rebound on EU fund optimism; gold edges higher

(Adds oil, gold settlement prices)

* Euro hits four-month peak on reports of progress on EU talks

* Italian-German spread falls to 162 bps, lowest since late March

* AstraZeneca shares hit record on COVID experimental drug

* Gold edges up on safe-haven demand

By Herbert Lash

NEW YORK, July 20 (Reuters) - Global equity markets rebounded on Monday on optimism the European Union would approve a recovery fund to help revive regional economies hit by the coronavirus, but worries about the pandemic's economic and human toll pushed gold prices higher.

The euro rose to a 19-week high and Italy's borrowing costs fell to their lowest since early March on expectations for a fund of about 750 billion euros ($857.93 bln).

EU leaders appeared to be nearing agreement on the massive stimulus plan despite lingering tensions between them after four days of summit squabbling.

Summit Chairman Charles Michel said he would present the 27 leaders with a new proposal and was confident it could be the basis for a deal many say is critical to dispel doubts about the bloc's very future.

European shares also rose on recovery fund optimism while encouraging data from three COVID-19 vaccine candidates lifted equities on both sides of the Atlantic, with the Nasdaq set to reach a fresh record closing high.

AstraZeneca shares rose 1.45% after hitting a record high on news its COVID-19 vaccine was safe and produced an immune response in early-stage clinical trials in healthy volunteers, though it was too early to call the drug a success.

"We're finally getting the details on these Phase I, Phase II studies that we kind of all expected to be positive, but it’s all about the Phase III and that's where everything and anything can go wrong," said Edward Moya, senior market analyst at currency broker OANDA in New York.

MSCI's benchmark for global equity markets rose 0.74%. On Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.1%, the S&P 500 gained 0.68% and the Nasdaq Composite jumped 2.12%.

In Europe, the broad FTSEurofirst 300 index closed up 0.73%.

Investors dropped cyclical stocks after a weeklong rally to return to the tech-centric leaders amid spiraling new cases of COVID-19 and investor hopes a vaccine will emerge to halt the pandemic's growing spread.

The euro was up 0.12%, at $1.1440, while the yen gained 0.26%, to $107.2700.

The euro hit its highest against the dollar since March 9, at $1.1467 after reports of recovery fund progress.

An attempt to reach a compromise on the recovery fund failed on Sunday. A deal envisaging 400 billion euros in grants - down from a proposed 500 billion euros - was rejected by the north, which said it saw 350 billion euros as the maximum.

Gold prices jumped to their highest since September 2011 and silver hit a more-than-four-year peak as a spike in COVID-19 infections and hopes for increased stimulus measures supported safe-haven demand.

U.S. gold futures settled up 0.4% to $1,817.40 an ounce. Spot gold rose $8.3616 to $1,817.26 an ounce.

Oil prices were little changed as coronavirus cases mounted in many countries. But a flurry of announcements about a potential COVID-19 vaccine and ongoing talks over a recovery fund to revive EU economies curbed losses.

Brent crude futures settled up 14 cents at $43.28 a barrel. U.S. crude futures rose 22 cents to settle at $40.81 a barrel.

Earlier in Asia, MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan gained 0.26%, reversing early losses.

Chinese markets rose more than 2% after regulators raised the equity investment cap for insurers and encouraged mergers and acquisitions among brokerages and mutual fund houses.

Prices for copper, a barometer of economic growth, fell after data showed rising inventories in Chinese warehouses and on concern that climbing coronavirus cases threatened a sustainable global recovery.

Reporting by Herb Lash and Ritvik Carvalho; additional reporting by Swati Pandey and Sumeet Chatterjee in Sydney; editing by Dan Grebler and Nick Zieminski

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