Stocks cheered by vaccine roll out, Brexit extension

(Reuters) – Stocks started a busy week with guarded gains as investors gauged the chance of added U.S. fiscal and monetary stimulus, while the British pound rose in relief as a last-gasp extension to Brexit talks dodged a hard divorce.

Progress on coronavirus vaccines cheered risk sentiment, with the first shipments speeding across the United States as part of an historic mission to innoculate more than 100 million people by the end of March.

E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 responded by rising 0.5%, while March Treasury bond futures slipped 5 ticks.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan edged up 0.1%, having hit a string of record highs last week.

Japan’s Nikkei added 0.4% as a survey showed the mood among hard-hit Japanese businesses had improved in the December quarter.

Sterling firmed on both the euro and the dollar after Britain and the European Union agreed to continue talks on post-Brexit trade beyond Sunday’s deadline.

Against the dollar, the pound rose 0.7% to $1.3314 and away from Friday’s close of $1.3222. The euro slipped 0.5% to 91.09 pence, off a three-month top of 92.29.

“Our base case remains that a ‘thin’ free trade agreement will be reached before the end of the year,” analysts at Goldman Sachs wrote in a note.

“That said, there is plenty of uncertainty and our economists, given the lack of progress in recent weeks, now see rising risks of a no-deal outcome.”

That could see the euro climb to 96.00 pence, while a deal could send the pound rallying to 87.00 per euro, Goldman predicted.

The single currency has already been charging hard against the U.S. dollar, which many analysts believe has entered a cyclical downtrend as the prospect of a vaccine-driven global economic recovery lessens the need for safe havens.

The euro was up 0.2% on Monday at $1.2135 and within striking distance of its recent 31-month top of $1.2177. The dollar index eased to 90.734 and nearer to its recent trough of 90.471.

An added hurdle for the dollar will be the Federal Reserve’s policy meeting on Dec. 15-16. The market is assuming the central bank will merely refine its forward guidance on policy rather than buying more bonds or “twisting” its portfolio to add more longer-dated debt.

“The risk is then if the Fed does unveil a surprise twist at this meeting, then Treasuries could rally and the USD could fall,” said Tapas Strickland, a director of economics at NAB.

An extra wrinkle is the chance of a U.S. deal on fiscal stimulus after a top Democrat hinted they might compromise to get an agreement past Republican objections.

All the talk of stimulus has helped put a floor under gold, leaving it a shade lower at $1,836 an ounce.

Considered a hedge against inflation and currency debasement, gold has gained more than 21% this year.

Oil prices edged higher on Monday having now rallied for six weeks straight as investors priced in a global recovery next year.

U.S. crude firmed 11 cents to $46.68 a barrel, while Brent crude futures rose 12 cents to $50.09.