Global stocks give up some gains after solid start to year

Stock markets drifted lower Friday as investors booked some profits after an encouraging couple of weeks

LONDON -- Stock markets drifted lower Friday as investors booked some profits after an encouraging couple of weeks that have helped many of the world's leading indexes halve the losses notched up during a bleak end to 2018.

KEEPING SCORE: In Europe, Germany's DAX slipped 0.4 percent to 10,879 while the CAC 40 in France fell 0.5 percent lower to 4,781. The FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was 0.2 percent lower at 6,930. U.S. stocks were poised to open moderately lower too with Dow futures and the broader S&P 500 futures down 0.1 percent.

2019 RELIEF: So far this year, investors have breathed a sigh of relief as hopes of a trade deal between the U.S. and China have risen and comments from officials at the U.S. Federal Reserve have suggested that the pace of interest rate increases could ease this year.

ANALYST TAKE: "Improved trade relations between the US and China and progress towards a deal and away from tariffs is undoubtedly positive and reduces a major headwind," said Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at OANDA. "The same is true of the Fed and its shift to more flexibility on rate hikes."

POWELL SPEECH: Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Thursday that the U.S. central bank has the "ability to be patient" with its plans to gradually raise interest rates. He echoed the tone of other Fed officials who were present at a meeting last month. A market-sensitive Fed is reassuring to investors who fear its tightening policies would send the U.S. economy into recession.

US-CHINA TALKS: Talks between American and Chinese negotiators may have ended without significant breakthroughs, but traders are choosing to focus on the positives. The fact that talks lasted a day longer than planned, conciliatory statements from both sides and the possibility of higher-level talks in the near future are fueling gains in Europe and Asia. In December, U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping agreed to a 90-day tariffs cease-fire, for negotiators to soothe tensions that have unsettled trade.

ASIA'S DAY: Japan's Nikkei 225 index advanced 1 percent to 20,359.70 and South Korea's Kospi was 0.6 percent higher at 2,075.57. Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 0.6 percent to 26,667.27. The Shanghai Composite surged 0.7 percent to 2,553.83.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude was flat at $52.49 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange while Brent crude, used to price international oils, was down 24 cents at $61.44 per barrel.

CURRENCIES: The euro was up 0.3 percent at $1.1529 while the dollar fell 0.1 percent to 108.27 yen.