European stocks dip as G20 meets

Europe's main stock markets retreated on Friday while the dollar and euro rose against the yen as Group of 20 finance ministers met amid growing talk of "currency wars".

Solid US industrial output and consumer sentiment data helped European stocks push into positive territory for a while in afternoon trading, but fell back as the closing bell approached.

London's FTSE 100 index of leading companies ended flat at 6,337.07 points, with news that British retail sales sank 0.6 percent in January from December, instead of a forecasted 0.6-percent gain, weighing on sentiment.

Frankfurt's DAX 30 shed 0.49 percent to 7,593.51 points, and in Paris the CAC 40 lost 0.25 percent to 3,660.37 points.

Madrid's IBEX 35 index dropped 1.18 percent to 8,150.2 points and Milan's FTSE MIB gave up 0.33 percent to 16,490 points.

"Prudence prevailed at the end of the session but the market had few new reasons to worry after yesterday's drop" due to data showing the eurozone recession deepened sharply in the final three months of last year, said Saxo Banque analyst Alexandre Baradez.

In foreign exchange deals, the dollar rose to 93.65 yen from 92.79 yen late in New York on Thursday, and the euro rose to 125.15 yen from 123.97 yen.

The euro drifted up to $1.3363 from $1.3356. Gold prices eased to $1,612.25 an ounce from $1,646 on the London Bullion Market.

The yen is in focus as finance ministers and central bankers from the G20 leading economies begin two days of meetings in Moscow on Friday, as Tokyo comes under attack from Europe over its new approach to monetary policy.

The Bank of Japan, under pressure from the new government, last month unveiled a plan for unlimited monetary easing and a target for two percent inflation.

The moves, which had been expected, initiated a weakness in the yen and sparked charges of manipulation from around the world amid fears of a currency war where rival nations drive down their currencies to gain a trade advantage.

However, many analysts contend that other nations have also sought to push down the value of their currencies via monetary easing measures.

For example, many emerging nations have long argued that the US Federal Reserve's monetary easing measures have in recent years weighed on the dollar and artificially boosted their own currencies, thereby hurting exports.

"The bottom line is that, in some guise or another, every major economy is in the process of devaluing their currency currently, so the net effect may turn out to be negligible," said Matt Basi, a trader at CMC Markets.

"In real terms the Japanese are not doing anything new -- or anything that isn't being replicated in other economies. They're just being more direct about it and more clear in their intentions," he added.

Japan's Asahi daily reported that the G20 would warn members off any competitive currency devaluations, and cited a copy of a draft joint statement.

"We do not want state intervention in exchange rates. We want exchange rates that are determined by the markets," German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble told German Radio ahead of the talks.

"I am actually very confident that will also be the joint position of all G20 countries in Moscow," Schaeuble added in an interview on Germany's Inforadio.

Asian stocks turned in mixed performances on Friday, with Tokyo falling 1.18 percent, Hong Kong gaining 0.13 percent, while Seoul and Sydney ended flat.

US stocks treaded water in midday trading despite a solid report on US industrial production in the fourth quarter.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average edged down 0.01 percent to 13,972.39 points, while the broad-based S&P 500 dipped 0.04 percent to 1,520.83 points, and the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite slipped 0.03 percent to 3,197.81 points.

The Federal Reserve reported that US industrial production expanded at 1.9 percent in the final quarter of last year, much stronger than originally thought.

This suggests that the initial government estimate of a 0.1 percent contraction in the economy last quarter could be revised upward.

burs-rl/mm

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