Markets take stock as EU summit draws to an end

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By PAN PYLAS, Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — Markets were steady Friday as a two-day summit of EU leaders headed to a conclusion with the signing of a treaty that is designed to prevent a repeat of the debt crisis that's rocked financial markets for the best part of two years.

However, a renewed sense of concern over Greece and confirmation that overnight deposits at the European Central Bank hit a record high of euro777 billion ($1.03 billion) on Thursday have done little to boost sentiment in the markets, on a day largely devoid of meaningful economic and corporate news.

"Consolidation is back in fashion this morning, as investors weigh various competing bits of news after a week of choppy trading," said Chris Beauchamp, market analyst at IG Index.

In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was down 0.1 percent at 5,926 while Germany's DAX was flat at 6,940. The CAC-40 in France was 0.2 percent higher at 3,505. The euro was faring worse, trading 0.5 percent lower at $1.3260.

Wall Street was poised for a fairly flat opening with Dow futures and the broader S&P 500 futures down around 0.1 percent.

Most of the world's leading indexes are back at levels they were trading at before last summer's massive sell-off. U.S. markets are actually trading at their highest levels since before the collapse of U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers in September 2008. The tech-heavy Nasdaq index is doing even better, having breached the 3,000 level Wednesday for the first time since 2001.

Much of the credit for that has been the seeming easing in Europe's debt crisis.

Another long-term offering of super-cheap loans to Europe's banks' from the European Central Bank on Wednesday has helped relieve those concerns further. The figures showing the rise in the amount deposited overnight at the ECB the following day was more likely a side-effect of the euro530 billion ($706 billion) three-year loans that banks took on board — after the previous offering in December, the amount of deposits spiked up sharply before falling back to more normal levels.

The expectation that Greece will avoid defaulting on its debts this month remains even though the country still has one more hurdle to clear before it can get its hands on its second massive international bailout. Finance ministers from the 16 other countries that use the euro said on Thursday they wanted more evidence from Athens that it would push through austerity and reform plans.

On Friday, the leaders of 25 European states signed a new treaty designed to prevent the 17 euro countries from living beyond their means and prevent a repeat of the currency union's crippling debt crisis. Only Britain and the Czech Republic from the 27-nation EU failed to sign.

Earlier in Asia, Japan's Nikkei 225 index rose 0.7 percent to finish at 9,777.03, its highest close in seven months.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.8 percent to 21,562.26 and South Korea's Kospi added 0.2 percent to 2,034.63.

Mainland Chinese shares rose, with the benchmark Shanghai Composite Index adding 1.4 percent to 2,460.69. The Shenzhen Composite Index climbed 2.1 percent to 980.77. Benchmarks in Australia, Singapore and Taiwan also rose.

Oil prices fell back modestly after Saudi Arabia denied an Iranian media report of an explosion at a Saudi pipeline. Benchmark oil for April delivery was down 41 cents to $108.43 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

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Pamela Sampson in Bangkok contributed to this report.

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