European stocks steady as crisis eases at EU summit

European stock markets steadied on Friday but the euro fell at the end of a week marked by an EU summit on the Greek crisis, new rules to control eurozone budgets and massive central bank funding for banks.

In afternoon deals, London's FTSE 100 index of leading shares dipped 0.10 percent to 5,925.69 points, Frankfurt's DAX 30 was little changed at 6,941.86 points and the Paris CAC 40 was 0.26 percent higher at 3,508.95 points.

The euro meanwhile retreated to $1.3216 from $1.3311 in New York late on Thursday.

"After a storming start to the year, stock markets are losing some of their upward momentum," GFT analyst David Morrison commented as he looked towards the week to come.

"The ECB's second (liquidity offer) is now priced in and this contrasts with the slow-burn effect of December's intervention," he added.

Morrison referred to a second long term refinancing operation that saw the European Central Bank lend 530 billion euros to eurozone banks at ultra low rates this week to avert a dangerous credit squeeze.

In New York, US stocks opened flat Friday, with the Dow still testing the 13,000 points resistance level.

In the first five minutes of trade, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 0.08 percent to 12,969.40 points.

The broad-based S&P 500 lost 0.07 percent to 1,373.11, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite was virtually unchanged to 2,989.27.

In Brussels, European Union leaders signed a new treaty to control budgets, vowing to turn the corner on the region's long-running sovereign debt crisis.

Leaders from 25 of the bloc's 27 nations -- with the Czech Republic and Britain opting out -- signed the treaty at a ceremony in Brussels on the second day of a summit.

The treaty is "a strong signal that we are drawing lessons from the crisis and that we are focusing on the future of a politically united Europe," said German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the main architect of the pact.

The countries signed up to a promise to stop their public deficits and debt spiralling out of control in the way that led to the eurozone crisis.

"Investors who have been looking for closure around the debt issue will be breathing a sigh of relief that at long last there appears to be some light at the end of the tunnel," said broker Andrew Crook at Sucden Financial Private Clients.

The Treaty for Stability, Co-ordination and Governance is a bedrock response to a two-year public debt crisis that forced bailouts for Greece, Portugal and Ireland.

The treaty "helps prevent a repetition of the sovereign debt crisis," said EU president Herman Van Rompuy after the ceremonial signing in the EU's Brussels headquarters.

However, some analysts remain unconvinced that the treaty will resolve the region's stubborn debt crisis.

"EU leaders ... signing the fiscal compact is a step forward in helping to set a framework for aligning budgets -- but it does not resolve the underlying solvency problem and lack of growth that is currently causing so many problems in Europe," said Michael Hewson at trading firm CMC Markets.

"Unless EU leaders can address that issue then all this summit has done is prolong the agony for economies like Spain, Italy, Portugal and Greece."

The treaty will take effect once 12 states have ratified the pact.

Ireland has already announced plans for a referendum on the treaty.

In Asia, markets continued their upward trend, as investor optimism was boosted by positive US jobs data.

Hong Kong gained 0.81 percent, Shanghai jumped 1.43 percent, Sydney rose 0.41 percent and Tokyo added 0.72 percent.

burs-wai/bmm

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