Stock markets struggle as bitcoin's record rally snowballs


European stock markets struggled Thursday as investors paused for breath, while bitcoin spiked to a dizzying record above $15,000 on frenzied speculative buying, dealers said.

Frankfurt and Paris stocks crept higher in late morning deals but London turned flat on the stronger pound.

However investor focus was on bitcoin, which is not traded on traditional currency markets and hit a fresh high at $15,242.99, according to Bloomberg News.

The controversial virtual unit has soared more than 50 percent in just one week, but analysts warn that the snowballing rally could melt in the run-up to Christmas.

"While the European stocks indices try and shake off yesterday's politically-driven bearish trading, bitcoin -- seemingly unencumbered by anything in the real world -- has continued its astonishing march," Spreadex trader Connor Campbell told AFP.

"The rolling wave of speculation has given bitcoin a huge amount of momentum, a snowball effect that may be melted when the cryptocurrency's futures are launched in a few weeks."

World equities mostly pulled higher on Thursday as investors somewhat regained their composure after being pressured on Wednesday by profit-taking, weak oil prices and worries about US President Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

- Bitcoin's 'break-neck speed' -

"European equity markets are edging higher as they are trying to get over the November slump, but so far it is slow moving," CMC Markets (LSE: CMCX.L - news) analyst David Madden told AFP.

"Bitcoin is continuing to travel at break-neck speed.

"The alternative investment is proving to be very popular at a time when traditional assets like gold are under pressure," he added, noting the precious metal had touched a four-month low.

Bitcoin received a major boost in October when exchange giant CME Group (Kuala Lumpur: 7018.KL - news) announced it would launch a futures marketplace for bitcoin, which has not been listed on a major bourse before.

"Bitcoin... has registered yet another milestone in its never-ending rally," added IG (Frankfurt: A0EARV - news) analyst Chris Beauchamp.

"There seems no end to the supply of willing buyers, with the endless progression of higher prices simply fuelling the mania."

Major stock markets had finished mixed on Wednesday, with Tokyo and Hong Kong sliding while Frankfurt, London, Paris and New York ranged from flat to slightly positive or negative.

Tokyo stocks rallied on Thursday after three days of losses, but regional Asian markets were dogged by political concerns, the latest being Trump's controversial decision on Jerusalem.

- Painful December? -

After a blockbuster year for most global markets -- helped by bets on Trump's promise to cut taxes and ramp up spending -- geopolitical worries and dealers winding down for the year's end have put them on course for a painful December.

Trump's Jerusalem decision drew swift global condemnation and fanned fears about the overall prospects for stability in the Middle East.

That followed news this week that one of the president's former close advisers had admitted lying to investigators in a probe into Russian meddling in the US election, bringing it closer to the White House.

Elsewhere, Britain's struggles to hammer out a deal with the EU on the Irish border question have left Brexit talks in limbo, meaning the second phase of the negotiations -- on trade -- cannot yet go ahead.

- Key figures around 1115 GMT -

London - FTSE 100: FLAT at 7,350.19 points

Frankfurt - DAX 30: UP 0.5 percent at 13,059.30

Paris - CAC 40: UP 0.2 percent at 5,387.35

EURO STOXX 50: UP 0.4 percent at 3,576.54

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: UP 1.5 percent at 22,498.03 (close)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng: UP 0.3 percent at 28,303.19 (close)

Shanghai - Composite: DOWN 0.7 percent at 3,272.05 (close)

New York - DOW: DOWN 0.2 percent at 24,140.91 (close)

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.1782 from $1.1795 at 2200 GMT

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.3406 from $1.3393

Dollar/yen: UP at 112.65 yen from 112.27 yen

Oil - Brent North Sea: UP 46 cents at $61.68 per barrel

Oil - West Texas Intermediate: UP 31 cents at $56.27