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Spanish tensions bar Europe from global stocks party

By Abhinav Ramnarayan

LONDON, Oct 4 (Reuters) – Global stock markets hit a record high on Wednesday with investors in exuberant mood in the United States overnight and in Asia later, but sentiment in Europe was soured by a political crisis gathering steam in Spain.

Tensions between Madrid and Catalonia have risen since the wealthy region held an independence referendum on Sunday that was tarnished by police violence.

Fallout from those clashes nudged Spanish stocks towards their biggest daily fall in more than a year on Wednesday, in turn dragging down other European bourses.

Catalonia would move as soon as this weekend to declare independence from Spain, the region’s leader said.

“If you look at the European markets, the continued political worries in Spain is the main driver, and that uncertainty seems likely to continue if the regional government declares independence,” Investec economist Ryan Djajasaputra said.

While world stocks hit a fresh record high, the pan-European STOXX 600 index was down 0.2 percent while Spain’s IBEX fell as much as 2 percent, its biggest daily fall since August last year.

Catalonia-headquartered Banco Sabadell led the IBEX lower, falling 4.7 percent.

Spanish banks weighed on the euro zone banking index , down 1.6 percent and on track for its worst fall in weeks with all stocks in the red.

“The underperformance is across asset classes as well – Spanish bonds are also underperforming,” Djajasaputra said.

Spain’s government bond yields rose to their highest since March on Wednesday, stretching the gap over German peers to its widest in five months.

The mood in Europe is at odds with the picture in other parts of the world.

Earlier, Japanese and Hong Kong shares led Asian stocks higher, supported by optimism about global growth and as the Chinese central bank’s weekend move to free up liquidity boosted mainland financial stocks.

“Global growth is on the up,” said Greg McKenna, Sydney-based chief market strategist at AxiTrader. “That’s a positive for stocks even before we add in the stimulatory impact of possible tax cuts or infrastructure spending in the United States.”

Japan’s Nikkei climbed to a more than two-year peak while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index rose to a level not seen since May 2015. The Philippines Stock Exchange added 0.7 percent to a record high.

Meanwhile, the dollar pulled away from seven-week highs, amid speculation that U.S. President Donald Trump’s choice for the next head of the Federal Reserve could be a less hawkish candidate than had previously been expected.

Oil prices also acted as a drag on European stocks. Brent crude futures fell 0.8 percent to $55.56 a barrel, pulled down by caution that a rally that lasted for most of the third quarter would not extend through the last three months of the year.

For Reuters Live Markets blog on European and UK stock markets see reuters://realtime/verb=Open/url= (Reporting by Abhinav Ramnarayan, Additional reporting by Swati Pandey Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)

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