April 17, 2019 / 11:24 AM / 3 months ago

GLOBAL MARKETS-Comforting China data puts Wall Street records within reach

* China GDP grows 6.4 pct, industrial output surges in March

* Nikkei edges up to highest since December

* NZ dollar, bond yields dive on soft inflation data

* Iron ore drops 4.7 pct as Vale reopens disaster-hit Brazil mine

* European shares flat, Juve thumped after Champions League exit

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

By Marc Jones

LONDON, April 17 (Reuters) - Wall Street's main markets were eyeing a return to all-time highs on Wednesday after a raft of Chinese data beat expectations, easing concerns about the health of its economy.

Though Europe struggled to join in, MSCI's 47-country world index was at a six-month high, benchmark bond yields shuffled up and the Aussie dollar, which tends to be highly sensitive to China's fortunes, did the same.

With Wall Street also waiting for results from the likes of Morgan Stanley, the Euro Stoxx 600 and German DAX inched higher, though London's FTSE struggled as a near 5 percent drop in iron ore prices hit its miners.

Moves in Asian share markets had been mostly modest too, in part because they had already rallied hard since the start of the year. World stocks are now up 20 percent since late December.

Japan's Nikkei closed up 0.25 percent after hitting a five-month peak while the Shanghai Composite made 0.3 percent to score its highest close since March 21, 2018 after jumping 2.4 percent on Tuesday.

Investors have been counting on better news from China and were not disappointed with first-quarter economic growth pipping forecast at 6.4 percent.

Importantly industrial output surged 8.5 percent in March from a year earlier, the fastest pace since July 2014 and well above forecasts of a 5.9 percent increase. Retail sales also pleased with a rise of 8.7 percent.

Investors reacted by buying the Australian dollar, often a liquid proxy for China plays, which pushed up 0.3 percent to a two-month top at $0.7206.

Allianz Global Investors strategist and portfolio manager Neil Dwane said the data had been good enough to allay fears that China's economy was collapsing although the rest of the year remained in question.

"Beijing will now be in a wait and see mode to gauge whether it has done enough," Dwane said. "To be bullish (on stocks) from here you would have to believe in a pretty strong global recovery in the second half... We are a bit more ho-hum."

Still, the fact that there were at least some green shoots appearing in world economy pushed benchmark government bond yields higher. German Bund yields hit a four-week high, although at 0.1 percent they are still barely above zero.

In currency markets, the U.S. dollar finally managed to top resistance on the yen at 112.13 to reach its highest since December at 112.16.

Against a basket of major currencies, the dollar was a tad weaker at 96.908 but still within the 95.00 to 97.70 range that has held for the past six months.

The euro edged up a touch to $1.1315, recovering from losses driven by a Reuters report that several European Central Bank policymakers think the bank's economic projections are too optimistic.

JUVENTUS THUMPED

One currency on the move was the New Zealand dollar which sank as far as $0.6668 after annual consumer price inflation came in well below expectations at just 1.5 percent for the first quarter.

The improved Chinese data gave it a helping hand back up to $0.6744 later but yields on two-year Kiwi bonds have already dived 9 basis points to 1.48 percent as investors wagered the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) would have to cut rates.

In commodity markets, the general improvement in risk sentiment saw spot gold slip to its lowest for the year so far. It was last up 0.2 percent at $1,279.25 per ounce.

Oil prices were buoyed again as fighting in Libya and falling Venezuelan and Iranian exports raised concerns over tightening global supply.

U.S. crude was last up 48 cents at $64.53 a barrel, while Brent crude futures rose 34 cents to $72.06.

The big mover, however, was China's Dalian iron ore futures which plunged after Brazilian miner Vale SA said it was preparing to resume operations at its huge Brucutu mine in the coming days.

The mine, with annual capacity of 30 million tonnes, has remained shut since early February after a tailings dam burst in late January, killing hundreds of people.

The most-traded iron ore futures for September delivery on the Dalian commodity Exchange sank as much as 4.7 and closed down 3.8 percent at 621 yuan ($92.86).

There was soccer drama, too.

Shares in Italian soccer giant Juventus had to be suspended as they dropped more than 20 percent after the team were knocked out of Europe's Champions League by Ajax. Shares in the Dutch club on the other hand celebrated with an 8.5 percent jump.

Reporting by Marc Jones; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Hugh Lawson

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