July 21, 2020 / 1:30 PM / 18 days ago

GLOBAL MARKETS-EU recovery fund lifts shares to five-month high

* MSCI world share index and euro hit highest since March

* EU seals recovery fund plan after five days of talks

* Virus vaccine trial results add to bullish mood

* Investors expect U.S. stimulus of more than $1 trillion

* Gold shines at 9-year high

* World FX rates in 2020 tmsnrt.rs/2egbfVh

By Marc Jones

LONDON, July 21 (Reuters) - World shares climbed to their highest since February and the euro briefly hit its strongest since March on Tuesday, after European Union leaders sealed a 750 billion-euro ($857 billion) post-pandemic recovery plan after marathon talks.

Hopes that vaccines against the COVID-19 disease might be ready by the end of the year also supported the rally, following promising early data from trials of three potential vaccines.

News of the EU deal, which includes 390 billion euros of grants, down from an initially proposed 500 billion, along with 360 billion of low-interest loans, pushed the euro as high as $1.1470, while Germany's DAX hit pre-COVID levels and other main EU indexes rose 1.25% - 2.2%.

EU summit chairman Charles Michel presented the final plan as a "pivotal" moment to dispel doubts about the bloc's unity and future.

"This agreement sends a concrete signal that Europe is a force for action," a jubilant Michel told a news conference. French President Emmanuel Macron, who spearheaded the deal with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, hailed it as "truly historic".

Italian, Spanish, Greek, Portuguese, Polish and Hungarian government bonds rallied, reflecting that the countries will be allocated some of the largest amounts from the new fund when scaled to the size of their economies.

The Netherlands and Austria, which were part of a group of "frugals" that had been calling for stricter terms for the funding, saw their borrowing costs inch higher, along with Germany, France, Sweden, Finland and Denmark.

"It's a significant step towards a more integrated and united Europe, which should boost the region's appeal to global investors and facilitate its re-rating," said Barclays' head of European equity strategy Emmanuel Cau.

"The rise of the euro isn't a major risk at the moment because it illustrates the lower risk premium for the region," though it might weigh on exporters such as Germany at some point down the line, he added.

Wall Street futures were also up, by 0.5%, after its latest tech-led charge had pushed the Nasdaq up 2.5% to a record closing high, and the S&P500 to a five-month peak on Monday.

Asian and Australian shares followed with a 2% rise that took MSCI's 49 country world index to its highest since February. Tokyo's Nikkei ended up a more modest 0.7%, but the Sydney stock market clocked up its best day in over a month with a 2.6% jump.

SHOT IN THE ARM

The main all-world equity indexes now have rebounded 45% off their March lows, boosted mainly by the record levels of stimulus announced by governments and central banks to cushion the impact of COVID-19 and its ensuing lockdowns.

Early data from trials of three potential COVID-19 vaccines released on Monday, including a closely watched candidate from Britain's Oxford University and one from CanSino Biologics and China's military research unit, also helped lift markets.

The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is one of 150 in development globally, but is considered the most advanced. In its Phase I trial, the vaccine induced so-called neutralizing antibodies - the kind that stop the virus from infecting cells - in 91% of individuals a month after they were given one dose, and in 100% of subjects who were given a second dose.

These levels were on a par with the antibodies produced by people who survived COVID-19, a benchmark of potential success.

Commodity markets also gained. Brent crude oil was up 31 cents at $43.59, while U.S. crude (WTI) gained 19 cents to $41.00, though both were within July's tight $2-$3 trading range.

Gold rose to a nine-year high as expectations of higher inflation from increased stimulus overshadowed the resultant gain in risk appetite. Silver breached $20 for the first time since September 2016.

Spot gold was up 0.6% at $1,825 per ounce by 0800 GMT, after hitting its highest since September 2011. U.S. gold futures rose 0.4% to $1,823.80.

Gold tends to benefit from widespread stimulus as the metal is widely viewed as a hedge against rising prices and currency debasement.

"What's really driving the gold market is stimulus and we are going to get more of it. It's the eye candy that's driving sentiment right now," said Stephen Innes, chief market strategist at financial services firm AxiCorp.

With the EU recovery plan sealed, investors will now focus on possible further U.S. measures after the $3 trillion injected earlier this year.

Advisers to President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats were set to discuss the next steps on Tuesday, with congressional Republicans saying they were working on a $1 trillion relief bill.

($1 = 0.8747 euros)

Additional reporting by Hideyuki Sano in Tokyo, Sumeet Chatterjee in Hong Kong and Brijesh Patel in Bangalore; editing by Susan Fenton, Larry King, Jane Merriman

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