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US jobs machine gets stock markets going

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[LONDON] World stock markets rose solidly Friday as investors welcomed strong US jobs data which all but seal a Federal Reserve rate hike next week, dealers said.

Wall Street opened higher in response to the American economy generating 235,000 new jobs in February, well above the 190,000 economists had been targeting.

This was the missing piece of the puzzle that Fed watchers had been waiting for to make tighter credit a near-certainty when the US central bank's chiefs meet next week.

The strong New York start helped key European markets hold onto most of their early gains.

Market voices on:

"Today's US jobs report was more than adequate to justify a rate hike next week," said Craig Erlam at Oanda.

"The only thing standing in the way of a rate hike now is the Fed itself," he said, "but after its efforts over the last few weeks, surely even it won't bottle it now." The dollar gained against the yen and the pound on the prospect of higher borrowing costs, but the euro held firm against the greenback.

Higher interest rates are not in themselves reason for cheer in the stock market as borrowing costs rise, but analysts said rate rises are a much-needed token of Fed confidence in the US economy in times of uncertainty.

Financials, however, stand to gain as higher rates improve their profit margins which have been battered by cheap money.

With a quarter-point increase in the Fed's key rate now practically in the bag, investors are looking for signs that the Fed will raise rates again before the summer.

The dollar burst past 115 yen on Thursday for the first time since the end of January and it managed to hold onto near two-month highs during the week's final trading sessions.

As the weaker yen pushed up share prices of Japanese exporters, Tokyo's Nikkei index ended up 1.5 per cent.

The euro meanwhile received a shot in the arm after European Central Bank boss Mario Draghi on Thursday offered an upbeat outlook for the eurozone economy.

The ECB upped its growth and inflation forecasts for this year while Draghi signalled it no longer sees an urgent need to undertake any extra support measures, meaning there would be no increase in euros being pumped into the system.

"Upgraded inflation forecasts and changed language from the ECB are signs the conversation is changing in Europe," said Greg McKenna, chief market strategist at AxiTrader.

"It was a subtle shift but an important one." Elsewhere, oil prices recovered ground after sharp mid-week losses, but then seemed poised to return to a slippery slope in late European business.

Renewed worries about a global supply glut, increased US production and questions about an Opec-Russia led drive to cut output are keeping oil traders on edge.