Greek bailout hopes shore up markets

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By PAN PYLAS, Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — Markets were optimistic Monday that Greece will finally secure a massive but long-delayed international bailout, allowing the debt-crippled country to avoid defaulting on its debts next month.

A surprise easing in monetary policy in China over the weekend also added to the buoyant mood in markets — many stock indexes are trading at multi-month highs, while the euro has recovered its poise.

The main focus of attention — on a day when Wall Street will be shut for a public holiday — will be Brussels, where the finance ministers from the 17 eurozone countries are gathering to discuss the elusive Greek bailout deal.

After some eurozone countries suggested last week that they might prefer Greece to default, the latest comments indicate the ministers will approve th euro130 billion ($171 billion) bailout. Greece has struggled to convince its partners in the eurozone, particularly Germany, that it will enact the austerity and reform measures in return for the cash.

France's finance minister Francois Baroin told Europe 1 radio Monday that while details will have to be worked out, "the political commitments have been made." Both parties in the Greek coalition government have agreed to push forward the measures in the event they are in government after expected elections in April.

"Officials have confirmed that momentum is building for approval of the deal and that while there are some gaps to be filled, the gaps are not so large that they risk derailing the whole process," said Sue Trinh, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets.

Alongside the bailout, Greece is expected to conclude debt-reduction discussions with its private creditors. That should slice off around euro100 billion from Greece's debt mountain. Even after that, Greece will have the highest debt burden of all the euro countries.

One of the last-minute hurdles to overcome is how to get Greece's debt burden down to around 120 percent of GDP by 2020. One way that target could be met is if European central banks forgo profits due on their holdings of Greek debt.

Even though there are issues that need to be ironed out, investors are confident of a successful conclusion.

In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was up 0.8 percent at 5,952 while Germany's DAX rose 1.4 percent to 6,944. The CAC-40 in France was 0.8 percent higher at 3,468.

The euro was 0.1 percent higher at $1.3223.

Sentiment has also been boosted by the surprise decision over the weekend by China's central bank to lower the ratio of funds that banks must hold as reserves to 20.5 percent from 21 percent, effective Friday. That will free up tens of billions of dollars for loans at a time when the growth rate is expected to drop from last quarter's 8.9 percent to closer to 8 percent. The cut is the second in two months.

Earlier in Asia, Japan's Nikkei 225 index added 1.1 percent to close at 9,485.09, its highest closing level of the year. South Korea's Kospi rose slightly to 2,024.90. Mainland China's benchmark Shanghai Composite Index climbed 0.3 percent to 2,363.60 after gaining more than 1 percent earlier in the day, while the Shenzhen Composite Index gained 0.3 percent to 923.32.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng dipped 0.3 percent to 21,424.79.

In the oil markets, Iran was battling with Greece to be the main focus of attention. Oil prices have jumped to a nine-month high near $105 a barrel Monday after Iran said it halted crude exports to Britain and France in an escalation of a dispute over the Middle Eastern country's nuclear program.

Benchmark crude was up $1.50 to $104.74 per barrel at late afternoon Singapore time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Earlier in the day, it rose to $105.21, the highest since May.

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Pamela Sampson in Bangkok contributed to this report.

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