* MSCI World Index flat, less than 2% from record high
* Gold reaches three-month high amid inflation hedging
* Wall Street seen opening down 0.4%
* All eyes on Federal Reserve later in the week
* FX and vaccination rates: tmsnrt.rs/3eMsjPY
LONDON, May 17 (Reuters) - Global shares hit the pause button and gold briefly reached a three-month high as surging COVID-19 cases in Asian countries and inflation pressures tempered demand for riskier assets.
Markets have been skittish in recent weeks as bumper supplies of central bank stimulus and rising prices in the United States and other countries fuel concerns some economies could overheat, requiring policymakers to tap on the brakes.
The MSCI World Index, a broad gauge of equity markets globally, was flat in European trade, albeit less than 2% from a recent record high. That followed its best day since February on Friday after an early week inflation-driven selloff.
However, S&P 500 futures and Nasdaq futures were both pointing to a lower open for Wall Street, down 0.4%.
“What markets are doing is hoping for the best and preparing for the worst,” said Fahad Kamal, chief investment officer at Kleinwort Hambros, although adding he felt the inflationary pressures would dissipate.
Equities were also benefiting from the TINA, or “There Is No Alternative” factor, he said.
“Stock market valuations are not giving the green signal but the question is: compared to what? If you buy bonds you are almost guaranteed to lose money. So the market is more tolerant of higher valuations that it would normally be.”
Guidance out of Asia was mixed overnight, with MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan flat, Japan’s Nikkei down 0.9% and Chinese blue chips up 1.5%.
April wholesale prices in Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, rose at their fastest pace in six and a half years, as rising energy and commodities costs ate into corporate margins, although consumer price inflation remains subdued.
In China, retail sales rose 17.7% in April from a year earlier, although they fell short of forecasts for a jump of 24.9%, while industrial output matched expectations with a rise of 9.8%.
The spread of the coronavirus was also a drag with Singapore reporting the highest number of local infections in months and Taiwan seeing a spike in cases.
With the U.S. data calendar light this week, all eyes will be on the minutes of the Federal Reserve’s last policy meeting for clues about any tightening in monetary policy.
So far, the Fed has argued the inflation spike is transitory, yet last week’s University of Michigan consumer survey showed the highest long-term inflation in the past decade.
“We believe inflation has reached an important inflection point, and we expect it to be structurally higher than during the last cycle, but not so high as to create major disruptions in markets,” said Joseph Amato, chief investment officer for equities at Neuberger Berman.
“This drives our positive view on risk assets and equities.”
After reaching a six-week peak just above 1.70% last week, 10-year Treasury yields edged lower and were last around 1.62%, while the dollar was down 0.1% against a basket of currencies at 90.20.
The euro was last up 0.2% at $1.2162, having climbed 0.5% on Friday as yields eased.
Italy’s 10-year bond yield rose to its highest level in over eight months as unease over the future of Italian economic reforms as well as a slowing down of central bank bond buying triggered fresh selling.
Bitcoin fell a further 8.5% to its lowest since February after tweets from Elon Musk hinted that Tesla may have sold, or will sell, its holdings.
The dip in U.S. yields combined with inflation concerns helped gold to a three-month peak of $1,855 an ounce before pulling back to trade up 0.4% at $1,849 an ounce.
Oil bounced around flat, with Brent and U.S. crude last down 0.1% at $68.62 a barrel and $65.29 a barrel, respectively.
Additional reporting by Sujata Rao; Editing by Kirsten Donovan, Nick Macfie and Ed Osmond