July 22, 2020 / 3:16 AM / 17 days ago

GLOBAL MARKETS-Euro stands tall as investors bet recovery hampers dollar, stocks up

* Euro hits 18-month high of $1.1543, Aussie hits 1yr peak

* Silver soars to an almost seven-year top

* Virus surge stalls Aussie stocks

* Asian stock markets: tmsnrt.rs/2zpUAr4

By Tom Westbrook and Elizabeth Dilts Marshall

SINGAPORE/NEW YORK, July 22 (Reuters) - The euro stood at an 18-month high, silver soared and commodities forged ahead on Wednesday, as economic recovery hopes drove bets on rebounding world demand and a falling U.S. dollar.

Stock markets in Asia ground higher, except in Australia where a surge in coronavirus infections put pressure on bank and travel shares and the benchmark index fell 1%. S&P 500 stock futures advanced 0.4% in line with the relatively positive mood.

The euro's rally was triggered by European Union leaders striking a deal for a region-wide rescue plan, a huge step toward both recovery and a stronger union.

The common currency surged to $1.1543, its best since January 2019, as investors bet an economic rebound would benefit currencies besides the dollar as global exports pick up and trade improves.

"Overall, sentiments are improving," said Vishnu Varathan, head of economics at Mizuho Bank in Singapore.

"It's given the euro that afterburner, and it's true for the Aussie as well ... it went for broke once the dollar started unravelling."

The Australian dollar hit a more than one-year high of $0.7144 on Wednesday and was further bolstered by strong domestic retail sales data.

Bellwether three-month copper futures sat close to two-year peaks and iron ore prices opened higher still, shrugging off a production increase in Brazil and a cautious outlook from global miner BHP.

Sliding real bond yields have added to the lustre of precious metals, at the same time that industrial demand has put silver on a tear. Spot prices for the metal, used in solar systems, rose 5% on Wednesday and are up 15% for the week.

Gold also made a fresh nine-year high of $1,865.35.

"The silver-gold price ratio is still well short of the long-term average," said Commonwealth Bank of Australia commodities analyst Vivek Dhar "We think that means that a sustained rally in silver can continue, particularly when demand hopes and supply concerns are added to the mix."

CLIFF CONCERNS

Elsewhere there was a lid on optimism. The spread of the coronavirus in the United States and other hotspots such as India, Latin America, Tokyo and Melbourne, gathered pace and signs abound that economic recovery is far from assured in the shorter term.

Japanese factory activity contracted for a 15th straight month in July.

Economists are expecting trade-sensitive South Korea to post its worst economic contraction in 20 years when second-quarter GDP data is published on Thursday.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.2% to sit just below a five-month top made on Tuesday. Japan's Nikkei dipped 0.2%.

The United States also reported more than 1,000 deaths from COVID-19 on Tuesday, the first time the grim milestone has been passed since June, and President Donald Trump warned that things will probably get worse before they get better.

Republicans and Democrats are at loggerheads over the size of the next fiscal relief package as a month-end "fiscal cliff" deadline for extending unemployment insurance looms.

"It remains to be seen if Republicans and Democrats have the same resolve demonstrated by EU leaders to find middle ground by next week," DBS analysts in Singapore said in a note.

"This concern was evident in U.S. equities."

On Wall Street overnight the benchmark S&P 500 index poked in to positive territory for the year so far, but struggled for headway and closed 0.16% higher.

The Dow rose 0.6%, and the Nasdaq fell 0.8% as investors sold a spectacular tech rally that has swelled titans Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Alphabet so much that their market value exceeds that of all Japan's equities combined.

Oil prices remain rangebound, but hung on to most of their overnight gains. Brent futures slipped 0.5% to $44.12 per barrel and U.S. crude fell 0.5% to $41.70 a barrel. (Reporting by Tom Westbrook in Singapore and Elizabeth Dilts Marshall in New York; Editing by Lincoln Feast & Shri Navaratnam)

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