December 27, 2019 / 11:25 AM / 2 months ago

GLOBAL MARKETS-Global shares hit record highs in festive cheer

* Global shares reach record highs on trade optimism

* European shares set for best year since financial crisis

* Fourth-quarter earnings will come into focus in January

* Euro rises as speculators unwind

* Brent crude at three-month highs

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

By Tom Arnold

LONDON, Dec 27 (Reuters) - World stocks scaled record highs on Friday and oil prices stayed buoyant in a holiday-shortened week, as optimism grew that a U.S.-China trade deal would soon be signed.

Traders returned from their Christmas and Boxing Day break to digest comments from Beijing that it was in close contact with Washington about an initial trade agreement. Earlier, U.S. President Donald Trump had talked up a signing ceremony for the recently struck phase-one trade deal.

Rising to another record high, European shares were on course for their best year since the financial crisis. The pan-European STOXX 600 index was up 0.2%, helped by gains in export-heavy German shares. The benchmark index has reached record highs for three sessions in a row.

The FTSE 100, set for its best run in three years, added 0.4%. Mining companies provided the biggest boost, with Glencore Plc and BHP Group Plc climbing about 2% each.

The positive tone was set in Asia. MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan jumped 0.8% to 555.39, a level not seen since mid-2018. It is up 15.5% so far this year.

China's blue-chip CSI300 was down 0.1%, although for the week the index was up 0.1%.

Profits at industrial companies in China in November grew at the fastest pace in eight months, breaking a three-month declining streak, as production and sales quickened. But broad weakness in domestic demand remains a risk for earnings next year, say analysts.

The rally in global shares contrasts with a plunge late last year, when the Sino-U.S. trade war had sapped investor confidence. The worries scuttled capital expenditure plans over much of 2019, but strong employment and signs of an improving global economy suggest that will change next year.

The U.S. Federal Reserve's policy easing, economic data that have come in above expectations, and corporate profits have helped lift stocks this year, along with trade-related optimism. Markets are now waiting for January's fourth-quarter financial results to see whether sentiment among companies has improved.

But some analysts are wary about risks ahead in 2020.

"The trade war ... is far from over," Piotr Matys, FX strategist at Rabobank, wrote in a research note. "In our view, this is just a temporary truce. Another unsolved major issue is Brexit. Geopolitical risk can suddenly resurface."

STERLING STRONGER, OIL SURGES

Easing uncertainty about Britain's exit from the European Union helped sterling gain to a four-day high of 85.17 pence against the euro.

The rise was helped by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen's saying the EU may need to extend the deadline for talks about a new trade relationship with Britain.

After being battered during 2019 by hedge funds betting on its weakening, the euro rose on Friday to an eight-day high of $1.1142.

Against the Japanese yen, the U.S. dollar showed some weakness, falling 0.2% to 109.48 yen. But the dollar was not far off the six-month high of 109.73 yen it reached at the beginning of this month.

The trade-sensitive Aussie dollar rose as high as $0.6958 against its U.S. counterpart, a five-month high.

Oil prices hit three-month highs. Brent crude, the global benchmark, rose to $68.14 per barrel, extending gains for a fourth session. U.S. West Texas Intermediate gained 22 cents to $61.90 a barrel. Brent has rallied about 25% in 2019, supported by supply cuts in oil-exporting countries

Gold prices eased from a near two-month high hit earlier in the session as investors booked profits amid thin holiday trade. It was still on course for its biggest weekly gain since early August. Spot gold was 0.01% down to $1,510.80 per ounce. (Additional reporting by Swati Pandey in Sydney; editing by Larry King)

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