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US, European stocks boosted by oil, better Fed outlook

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[NEW YORK] US and European stocks finished mostly higher Wednesday as a rise in crude prices lifted oil shares and the Federal Reserve gave a somewhat more optimistic view of the global economy.

Bourses in London, Paris and Frankfurt all climbed as oil prices rose to their highest level so far in 2016. That boosted shares of France's Total and Anglo-Dutch giant Royal Dutch Shell, among others.

In the US, the Dow and S&P 500 also finished in positive territory after the Fed signalled that it was less worried about international economic and market problems than in March as it kept interest rates unchanged.

But the tech-rich Nasdaq was an outlier, falling 0.5 per cent after Apple plunged 6.4 per cent on its first ever decline in iPhone sales.

Apple, the world's biggest company by market capitalization, also reported its first decline in quarterly revenues since 2003 and a nearly 23 per cent drop in fiscal second-quarter earnings to US$10.5 billion.

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Apple's weak results hit Asian firms that provide parts for the firm's gadgets.

In Tokyo, Japan Display fell almost one per cent, Alps Electric shed 1.8 per cent and Taiyo Yuden was off 1.5 per cent.

But the broader market reaction showed that Apple's travails were seen as "being more company-specific in nature" than a general economic issue, said analyst Patrick O'Hare.

"Apple's current shortcomings are a by-product of tough comparisons, high expectations rooted in past success, the company running headlong into the law of large numbers, and the absence of a new form factor to excite the masses."

Analysts disagreed about what the Fed's statement implied about future interest rate increases, a key question for global markets.

In March the Fed policy statement highlighted worries about global economic weakness, saying international economic and financial developments "pose risks."

In the new outlook, it simply said that it would continue "to closely monitor inflation indicators and global economic and financial developments."

Some analysts took that as a sign the US central bank is willing to raise rates at its June 14-15 meeting, despite the possible financial market disruptions that could result from the June 23 vote in Britain on breaking from the European Union, Brexit.

"The more positive tone than in March is consistent with officials tightening again as soon as the June meeting, but only if the data and markets are supportive. We expect they will be supportive," said Jim O'Sullivan of High Frequency Economics.

But David Levy, portfolio manager at Republic Wealth Advisors, said the likelihood of a rate hike in June "was zero or virtually zero" given that the Fed still pointed to economic problems, such as inflation rates well below the US central bank's targeted level.

Attention will turn Thursday to the Bank of Japan's policy meeting. The BOJ is expected to unleash more stimulus after deadly earthquakes struck earlier this month.


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