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Stocks muted ahead of EU bank stress test
Global shares muted with investors cautious ahead of Europe's bank stress tests
By The Associated Press

LONDON (AP) ' Global shares traded in narrow ranges Friday as investors braced for the results of stress tests on European banks intended to show how they would weather another sharp recession.

The tests will reveal the banks' exposure to shaky government bonds, currently a big source of uncertainty for markets as Greece looks increasingly likely to default on its debt.

The EU hopes the transparency will build confidence in stronger banks and push weaker ones to raise new capital, merge or restructure.

But traders were cautious, since the results won't be released until after European markets close for the weekend.

Analysts predicted that no matter what the data show, investors are unlikely to be heartened: Too many failures will spook markets. But figures that are too rosy will call into question the tests' credibility, as they did in the last round, when banks that passed collapsed just weeks later.

"The inevitable no-win situation is likely to get people talking, but, as has been the case in the past, the markets may have a somewhat muted response no matter what the results," said James Hughes, an analyst with Alpari.

By contrast, Italy, which has dragged down markets recently amid fears it could be engulfed in the debt crisis, could provide a boost. The government is expected to pass cost-cutting measures late in the day.

In Europe, shares were easing down. The FTSE index of leading British shares was down 0.1 percent at 5,840, while Germany's DAX lost 0.3 percent to 7,195. France's CAC-40 fell 0.5 percent to 3,734.

Wall Street was poised to open slightly higher. Dow futures were up 0.2 percent at 12,401 while S&P futures are 0.1 percent higher at 1,308.40.

Investors seemed unmoved so far by a Standard & Poor's warning that it might downgrade its U.S. credit rating. President Barack Obama is locked in a battle with Congress over raising the debt ceiling ' necessary if Washington is going to meet its obligations.

After days of falling against the euro, the dollar was flat, and the yields, or interest rates, on 10-year U.S. treasuries barely budged.

"The Treasury market is positively 'Teflon' when it comes to the debt mountain in the U.S.," said Jane Foley of Rabobank. "Even if the treasury market remains immune to what is a potential debt crisis in the U.S., it is clear that there is little left in the public purse to stimulate growth and jobs creation."

The Dow fell Thursday after remarks from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke dimmed hopes for a third round of monetary stimulus.

Concerns about the U.S. economy may have abated slightly this week after better than expected jobless numbers. Now markets will be looking to a raft of U.S. economic data later in the day for any signs that the recovery is getting back on track. Predictions are that industrial production and price inflation numbers will be down.

Oil prices fell to near $95 a barrel after Bernanke's comments.

But benchmark oil for August delivery was up 12 cents to $95.81 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Trading earlier in Asia was also muted. Japan's Nikkei 225 stock average gained 0.4 percent to close at 9,974.47, recovering slight losses with investors largely on the sidelines. Monday is a national holiday in Japan.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng lost 0.3 percent to 21,875.38 while South Korea's Kospi rose 0.7 percent to 2,145.20. The Shanghai Composite Index added 0.4 percent to 2,820.17.

In currencies, the euro was virtually unchanged for the day at $1.4148.

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