February 21, 2019 / 10:26 AM / a month ago

GLOBAL MARKETS-Shares retain gains, Aussie whacked by rates and coal woes

* U.S., China working on six memorandums of understanding

* Aussie falls as China's Dalian port bans Australian coal imports

* London, Frankfurt, Paris inch lower, U.S. futures up

* Minutes of Fed's Jan 29-30 policy meeting provide some relief

* Graphic: World FX rates in 2019 tmsnrt.rs/2egbfVh

By Marc Jones

LONDON, Feb 21 (Reuters) - Signs the United States and China were tackling some of the stickiest issues in their trade war kept world shares near a four-month high on Thursday, though it could not prevent a favourite Chinese proxy, the Aussie dollar, hitting the skids.

A brief rise in the euro and bond yields after some slightly brighter French data and some poor company earnings made for a low key start for the main FTSE , DAX and CAC 40 bourses.

Asian trading had been far more eventful though. MSCI's main Asia-Pacific index rose to a 4-1/2 month high after sources told Reuters U.S. and Chinese negotiators were drawing up six "memorandums of understanding" to solve their trade feud.

They include forced technology transfer and cyber theft, intellectual property rights, services, currency, agriculture and non-tariff barriers to trade, the sources said, adding the sides were pushing for an agreement by March 1, the deadline after which U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports will ratchet up.

The big mover though was the Aussie dollar.

It slumped more than 1 percent after one of the country's big banks, Westpac, called for two RBA rate cuts this year and Reuters reported that the Chinese port of Dalian had banned imports of Australian coal. Coal is Australia's biggest export earner.

"It is hard know how much of this is in the price considering the fall we saw from the Aussie dollar last year," said State Street's EMEA Head of Macro Strategy, Tim Graf.

It is still up this year, however, which means "there is totally scope for further downside".

The Aussie was last trading at $0.7105, down 0.8 percent on the day but it was not the only one struggling. The Kiwi dollar got bundled down 0.5 percent and the euro had given back its early gains to stand at $1.1320.

French PMIs had been reassuring but were then followed by news that euro zone factory output had unexpectedly slammed into reverse last month as activity in Europe's manufacturing powerhouse Germany declined again.

IHS Markit's Flash Composite euro zone Purchasing Managers' Index, which is seen as a good guide to economic health, rose to 51.4 this month from a final January reading of 51.0, above a Reuters poll median expectation for 51.1 but still below where it has been for much of the past four years.

"The euro zone economy remained close to stagnation in February. The general picture remained one of a more subdued business environment than seen throughout much of last year," Chris Williamson, IHS Markit's chief business economist said.

Williamson said the results pointed to first-quarter euro zone growth of just 0.1 percent, below the latest Reuters poll estimate for 0.4 percent. They come soon after the European Central Bank ended its more than 2.6 trillion euro asset purchase stimulus programme.

FED AFFIRMS "PATIENT" STANCE

The slide in the Aussie dollar had helped its share market close at a six-month high. Japan's Nikkei had ended 0.1 percent stronger too and though Chinese shares sagged, the "offshore" yuan firmed to its strongest level since July on the trade hopes.

Sterling shrugged off Fitch putting its UK credit rating on a formal downgrade warning amid uncertainty about whether the country's parliament will be able to agree a transition deal before next month's planned Brexit date.

U.S. stock futures were up 0.2 percent after the Federal Reserve on Wednesday affirmed it would be "patient" on further interest rate rises and that the economy remained fundamentally strong.

The central bank also signalled it would soon lay out a plan to stop letting go of $4 trillion in bonds and other assets, though policymakers are still debating how long their newly adopted "patient" stance on U.S. rates will last.

"The bar to restarting rate hikes in the near term seems to be quite high, with several participants arguing that rate increases would be necessary "only if inflation outcomes were higher than in (the) baseline outlook", Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics, said in a note.

In the commodity market, crude prices rose more than 1 percent on Wednesday to their highest in 2019 on hopes that oil markets will balance later this year.

Oil prices were also helped by output cuts from top producers and U.S. sanctions on the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) members Iran and Venezuela.

U.S. crude was last up 0.3 percent, or 17 cents, at $57.33 per barrel. Brent was 0.1 percent, or 5 cents, higher at $67.13.

Gold was steady at $1,338.50, close to a 10-month peak of $1,346.70 scaled on Wednesday. (Additional reporting by Daniel Leussink in Tokyo; Editing by Alison Williams)

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