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    Here are some factors that may affect Middle East stock markets on Thursday. INTERNATIONAL/REGIONAL. * GLOBAL MARKETS-Asia shares skid; oil climbs on Yemen escalation. * Oil prices surge after Saudi air strikes in Yemen. * MIDEAST STOCKS-Saudi Arabia tumbles as Arab states consider Yemen intervention. * PRECIOUS-Gold holds gains from longest rally since 2012 on US rate hopes.

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    * Semi-conductor sector leads losses * Weak U.S. durable goods orders hit risk sentiment * Market cautious on developments in Yemen; oil firms gain * Many investors remain optimistic over Japan's economic outlook By Hideyuki Sano TOKYO, March 26 - Japan's Nikkei share average dropped on Thursday as investors sold semi-conductor and other hi-tech shares after their U.S. peers were sold off sharp...

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    Hong Kong stocks bounced between small gains and losses Thursday morning, taking cues from weaker U.S. markets and mixed corporate earnings reports. The Hang Seng Index erased opening losses and nudged higher by less than 0.1%, with the mainland-China-tracking Hang Seng China Enterprises off 0.3%. Bank of China Ltd. fell 0.7%, as its nonperforming loans jumped more than 30% last year and its bad-loan ratio rose to 1.18% from 0.96% a year ago, although it posted an 8% increase in...

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    * Oil up as Saudi Arabia launches military strikes on Yemen rebels. * Nikkei suffers sharpest fall in 10 weeks after Wall St drop. * Dollar uptrend pauses as US data darkens, EU brightens. * Activity light with blank indicator diary for Asia. By Wayne Cole.

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    * Dollar index softer, euro back near $1.10. * U.S. data and Fed comment not helpful for USD. * Commodity currencies underperform, hit by consolidation. By Ian Chua. The corrective bounce in the U.S. dollar faded again overnight, leaving the currency a shade lower early on Thursday in another hint the recent one-way bullish bet is on ice for now.

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    Debt relief could boost GDP with 0.5 percentage point a year. LONDON-- Further relief on Greece's whopping debt burden is needed to boost economic growth in the struggling nation, but it doesn't have to translate into losses for the eurozone lenders, Bank of Greece Governor Yannis Stournaras said on Wednesday. Speaking at an event at the London School of Economics, the governor highlighted that his country has already made progress in tackling its debt mountain, but that more needs...

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    * Canadian dollar at C$1.2517 or 79.89 U.S. cents * Bond prices mostly lower across the maturity curve By Solarina Ho TORONTO, March 25 - The Canadian dollar was marginally softer against its U.S counterpart on Wednesday, ahead of a much anticipated speech by Bank of Canada Governor, Stephen Poloz, on Thursday, and despite higher oil prices and a softer greenback.

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    * TSX ends down 151.89 points, or 1.01 percent, at 14,929.37. * Nine of 10 main index sectors decline. * Canadian Natural, Suncor are among most influential gainers. By Alastair Sharp. Canada's main stock index fell 1 percent on Wednesday, with heavyweight banks and insurers weighing, while a bounce in oil prices helped some of the country's biggest oil and gas producers.

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    Canada's main stock index ended sharply lower on Wednesday in a broad retreat led by heavyweight banking and insurance stocks, while a bounce in crude oil prices helped energy companies keep their heads above water. The Toronto Stock Exchange's S&P/TSX composite index closed down 151.34 points, or 1.00 percent, at 14,929.92. Of the index's 10 main sectors, only energy avoided a fall.

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    Negative interest rates are a Twilight Zone for markets--but nowhere are their effects more mind-bending than for life insurance. In Germany particularly, the threat that negative rates pose could bring upheaval to a large group of unlisted life insurers. Insurers are already suffering from ultralow interest rates on their investments.

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    LONDON-- U.K. stocks tipped into the red Wednesday, backing away from an effort to reach a record high, with a downgrade of Barclays PLC (BCS) weighing on the banking heavyweight's shares. The FTSE 100 fell 0.4% to 6,990.97. The lowest close for the blue-chip index since March 19, according to FactSet data, came in part as consumer-related shares reversed gains.

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    Euro makes another run at $1.10 vs. dollar. LONDON-- European stocks slid Wednesday as the euro regained traction against the dollar, keeping German shares from advancing in the wake of encouraging data from Europe's largest economy. The Stoxx Europe 600 dropped 1.1% to 397.95, marking the lowest close since March 17, with only the energy sector advancing.

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    RIO DE JANEIRO, March 25 (Reuters) - The Brazilian real dropped more than 1 percent on Wednesday after the central bank announced it will end its forex intervention program at the end of March, reducing artificial support for one of the world's worst performing currencies. The decision, in line with a broader government effort to reduce intervention in the economy, did not have an even bigger impact on the real because central bank President Alexandre Tombini had already signaled the program could not be extended past March 31. The real lost 1.4 percent to 3.17 per dollar while other key Latin American currencies such as the Mexican peso and the Chilean peso were steady or slightly stronger. Expectation that the central bank would scrap its currency intervention program, combined with a growing economic and political crisis in Brazil and fears of higher U.S. interest rates, have driven the real nearly 16 percent lower this year. In March alone, it has tumbled nearly 19 percent, which makes it the worst performer among the 152 currencies tracked by Reuters. The real had been kept largely over valued during the past few years as President Dilma Rousseff resorted to a number of unconventional policies to fight inflation. Since re-election to a second term in office starting this year, however, she has been trying to chance course. Economists welcomed the end of the currency intervention program, which they said not only created economic distortions but had also become increasingly ineffective and expensive. "A very welcome move and a step forward to facilitate the needed macroeconomic adjustment," Goldman Sachs' senior economist Alberto Ramos said in a note to clients. "In our assessment, the central bank has intervened excessively in the forex market over the last 19 months." Under the program, the central bank offered investors a daily supply of currency swaps, derivatives that provide protection against currency losses. The stock of those swaps currently stands at around $113 billion - an amount the central bank considers enough to meet investors' demand for hedging. The bank said it will fully roll over swaps that mature on April 1 and beyond. Key Latin American stock indexes and currencies at 1630 GMT Stock indexes daily % YTD % change change Latest MSCI Emerging 975.73 -0.26 2.29 Markets MSCI LatAm 2484.19 -0.47 -8.49 Brazil Bovespa 51595.4 0.17 3.18 Mexico IPC 43721.36 -0.75 1.33 Chile IPSA 3890.87 -0.12 1.04 Chile IGPA 18982.33 -0.01 0.59 Argentina MerVal 11154.55 -2.02 30.02 Colombia IGBC 9960.3 1.12 -14.39 Peru IGRA 12509.75 -0.09 -15.44 Venezuela IBC 5014.06 4.54 29.94 Currencies daily % YTD % change change Latest Brazil real 3.1693 -1.40 -16.15 Mexico peso 14.965 -0.15 -1.48 Chile peso 619.8 0.23 -2.16 Colombia peso 2551 -1.57 -6.39 Peru sol 3.064 0.07 -2.77 Argentina peso 8.8000 -0.03 -2.84 (interbank) Argentina peso 12.78 0.31 9.55 (parallel) (Reporting by Bruno Federowski and Walter Brandimarte; Editing by Grant McCool)

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    * Tech stocks fall, tracking weakness in U.S. peers. * FTSEurofirst 300 hovers below 7-1/2 year high. * Steel producers rally after EU says to impose duties. * Rebound in euro weighs on DAX. By Sudip Kar-Gupta. LONDON, March 25 - European shares retreated further from 7-1/2-year highs hit last week, led lower by weaker technology stocks that slid on the back of a sell-off in their U.S. peers.

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    The index may be signaling that the economy is stalling, writes Mark Hulbert. Buffett says Heinz-Kraft merger is' my kind of transaction'. Warren Buffett slapped his golden seal on approval of a new combined Heinz and Kraft.

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    * FTSEurofirst 300 hovers below 7-1/2 year high. * Steel producers rally after EU says to impose duties. * Rebound in euro weighs on DAX. By Sudip Kar-Gupta. European shares retreated further from 7-1/2-year highs hit last week as a rebound in the euro pegged back stock markets and pushed the German market back off record highs.

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    It's a leading indicator of activity and asset prices. NEW YORK-- When it comes to European economic data, broad money growth doesn't get the same headline treatment as inflation, unemployment, purchasing managers' indexes or the Ifo index, but it is a very important leading indicator. M3, the broadest measure of the eurozone money supply tracked by the European Central Bank, offered one of the first signs last year that prospects for a recovery in the long-suffering region were...

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    * TSX up 35.34 points, or 0.23 percent, at 15,116.60. * Six of 10 main index sectors decline. * Canadian Natural, Suncor are among most influential gainers. By John Tilak. Canada's main stock index rose higher on Wednesday as a weaker U.S. dollar helped fuel gains in commodity prices, pushing up shares in the energy and gold-mining sectors.

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    Canada's main stock index opened higher on Wednesday as a weaker U.S. dollar helped fuel gains in commodity prices, pushing up shares in the energy and gold-mining sectors. The Toronto Stock Exchange's S&P/TSX composite index was up 52.78 points, or 0.35 percent, at 15,134.04 shortly after the open.