By Marc Jones
LONDON (Reuters) - World shares were within touching distance of a record high on Monday, after Beijing surprised markets by trimming a key interest rate for the first time since 2015.
In the latest show of support for its economy, China's central bank cut rates on seven-day reverse repurchase agreements by five basis points to 2.50%
The news helped Asia's main markets get the week off to a solid start. Europe's STOXX 600 and FTSE followed suit with 0.1% to 0.3% gains, though the German DAX and French CAC40 remained in the red.
MSCI's 49-country main world share index inched 0.1% higher, leaving it less than 1% off its early 2018 record high, with Wall Street gains looking likely.
"It is a slow start to a slow week, but risk is marginally on," said Societe Generale strategist Kit Juckes.
He added it was now hard to avoid concluding that China was slowly easing monetary policy, having held off in recent months, perhaps wary of drawing fresh criticism from U.S. President Donald Trump during trade talks.
"Maybe that's what 5 basis points (cut to repo rate) is all about. It's not rocking the boat, but it's a shift."
The pan-European STOXX 600 index was extending its six-week winning streak, helped by a bidding war for Spanish stock exchange BME. The STOXX index is only 8 points short of its record high of 415.18 points from mid-April.
Japan's Nikkei gained 0.5% to stop just short of its recent 13-month top and Hong Kong's Hang Seng climbed 1.35% despite ongoing protests there. Shanghai blue chips recouped early losses to close up 0.8%.
Beijing's rate cut came after more U.S. trade deal chatter over the weekend.
On Saturday, Chinese state media said the two sides had "constructive talks" in a high-level phone call that included Vice Premier Liu He, U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
"More than in previous rounds, we see momentum toward reaching at least a limited trade deal, and certainly a mini-deal would remove some of the negative sentiment overhang for the real economy and markets," said Patrik Schowitz, global multi-asset strategist at J.P. Morgan Asset Management.
"We have upgraded our outlook on equities as an asset class," he said. "Emerging-market equities are now our most favoured region alongside U.S. large-cap equities."
The main EM equities index is currently up almost 9% for the year, three time less the 27% surge in the S&P 500 and less than half the 20% jump of the broader world index.
Sterling rose to its highest since May against the euro and to nearly $1.30 versus the dollar as more polls showed the ruling Conservative party ahead in the campaign for Britain's Dec. 12 election.
The dollar was little changed against other major currencies and within recent trading ranges. Volatility in the market has been the lowest in decades recently and shows no sign of shifting.
The U.S. currency rose against the safe-haven yen to 109.02. Chart support lies at 108.23 with resistance at 109.48.
The euro traded at $1.1057 having found support at $1.0987 last week, with traders waiting for the first major speech by new European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde, on Friday.
Government bond yields were higher on Monday, but along with the dollar they are likely to be sensitive to minutes of the Federal Reserve's last policy meeting, set to be released on Wednesday.
"The minutes are likely to reiterate that the U.S. economy is 'solid' and that current monetary policy settings are 'appropriate', which would support the dollar," said Joseph Capurso, a currency analyst at Commonwealth Bank of Australia.
However, he noted a report on October U.S. retail sales released on Friday suggested previously strong consumption might be slowing.
"Any further weakness in consumption could warrant a material reassessment of the outlook by the FOMC. Under our baseline, the FOMC would most likely start cutting interest rates again in 2020," said Capurso.
Spot gold fell to $1,459 per ounce.
Oil prices slipped, after Brent touched a seven-week high on Friday. Brent crude futures dropped 44 cents to $62.83 a barrel. U.S. crude slipped by 25 cents to $57.48.
(Additional reporting by Wayne Cole in Sydney; editing by Larry King)