Christmas cheer for American stock markets, but Italian woes continue

BUOYANT US consumer confidence figures helped stock markets in Europe rise and saw Wall Street close narrowly mixed last night but Italian shares dipped as the country’s key borrowing rate ratcheted up to worrisome levels.

In the run-up to Christmas, investors have been cheered by a slew of upbeat US economic indicators and that continued, with a closely-watched survey into US consumer confidence from the New York-based Conference Board rising almost 10 points to 64.5 from a revised 55.2 in November, above market expectations for a more modest rise to 60.

“The consumer is sitting pretty in winter wonderland according to the Conference Board,” said Andrew Wilkinson, an analyst at Miller Tabak & Co.

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The figures helped cement the advance in markets in Europe and pushed oil prices up amid hopes of rising demand in the US.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average dropped 2.27 points, or 0.02 per cent, to end at 12,291.73 but the broader Standard & Poor’s 500 Index inched up just 0.11 of a point, or 0.01 per cent, to finish the day on 1,265.44. The Nasdaq Composite Index added 6.56 points, or 0.25 per cent, to end on 2,625.20.

In Europe, France’s Cac-40 index closed up 1.2 at 3103.3 while Germany’s Dax 30 closed up 10.8 at 5,889.8. Japan’s Nikkei 225 closed down 38.78 at 8440.56 but, in Hong Kong, the Hang Seng finished ahead, up 250.94 at 18,629.17.