US stocks up, dollar down as Yellen signals likely rate hike

John BIERS
Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen told a Chicago business group that lifting benchmark interest rates "would likely be appropriate" if employment and inflation trends stay solid

US stocks edged higher but the dollar pulled back from recent gains Friday after Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen signaled an interest rate hike was likely this month if current economic conditions hold.

Yellen told a Chicago business group that lifting benchmark interest rates "would likely be appropriate" if employment and inflation trends stay solid.

Yellen's remarks were the focus in a session that saw stock markets in Asia, Frankfurt and London retreat.

Paris gained 0.6 percent as centrist Emmanuel Macron has emerged as a leading rival that could derail Far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, who has vowed to take France out of the eurozone.

Yellen's remarks followed similar commentary from other Fed officials this week that left markets betting the US central bank will pull the trigger at the March 14-15 policy meeting.

The speech also came on a day when US data showed the services sector, the main driver of the economy, hit its fastest pace in 15 months in February.

For the moment, US investors are taking a sunny view of the Fed's stance.

"At some point, maybe later in the year or next year, the market may not look at a rate hike as a positive thing," said Tom Cahill of Ventura Wealth Management.

"But right now, the market is willing to see this as an indication that economic growth is accelerating."

While US stocks rose, the dollar actually retreated in a move seen as evidence of profit taking after the greenback climbed earlier in the week.

"While Janet Yellen was surprisingly direct, I don't think she really added too much to what the market already was thinking," said Omer Esiner of Commonwealth Foreign Exchange. "So in that respects, investors may be content to take money off the table ahead of the week end."

Among individual stocks, General Motors climbed 1.3 percent as it edged closer to a deal to sell its European subsidiary to French carmaker PSA. The supervisory board of PSA approved the purchase of the unit and an announcement was expected Monday, a source close the transaction told AFP.

In Japan, Nintendo jumped 3.7 percent as its new console went on sale with gamers queueing up outside stores around the country.

- Key figures around 2200 GMT -

New York - Dow: UP less than 0.1 percent at 21,005.71 (close)

New York - S&P 500: UP 0.1 percent at 2,383.12 (close)

New York - Nasdaq: UP 0.2 percent at 5,870.75 (close)

London - FTSE 100: DOWN 0.1 percent at 7,374.26 (close)

Frankfurt - DAX 30: DOWN 0.3 percent at 12,027.36 (close)

Paris - CAC 40: UP 0.6 percent at 4,995.13 (close)

EURO STOXX 50: UP 0.5 percent at 3,402.19

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.5 percent at 19,469.17 (close)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng: DOWN 0.7 percent at 23,552.72 (close)

Shanghai - Composite: DOWN 0.4 percent at 3,218.31 (close)

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.0619 from $1.0560

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.2292 from $1.2234

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 114.05 yen from 114.45 yen

Oil - Brent North Sea: UP 82 cents at $55.90 per barrel

Oil - West Texas Intermediate: UP 72 cents at $53.33 per barrel