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Euro gains, U.S. stocks flat; ECB signals end to rate cuts

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange shortly after the opening bell in New York March 9, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson (Reuters)

By Caroline Valetkevitch NEW YORK (Reuters) - The euro jumped while U.S. stocks ended flat on Thursday as new stimulus measures by the European Central Bank were offset by a signal from its chief Mario Draghi that it would cut interest rates again only in the most extreme of circumstances. Investors had initially cheered the ECB's announcement that it will cut rates to fresh record lows, start buying corporate debt for the first time and effectively begin paying banks to borrow from it to lend to companies and households. That optimism dissipated as Draghi suggested that years of interest rate cuts may finally be at an end. "Rates will stay low, very low, for a long period of time and well past the horizon of our purchases," Draghi said, referring to the bank's asset purchase program, due to end in March 2017. But "from today's perspective and taking into account the support of our measures to growth and inflation, we don't anticipate that it will be necessary to reduce rates further." The euro recovered from six-week lows against the dollar of $1.0823 to trade at a three-week high of $1.1217 as money market rates in the euro zone rose on reduced expectations for further deposit rate cuts. The euro was last at $1.1120, up 1.1 percent. Gold rose as the euro bounced. U.S. gold futures for April delivery settled up 1.2 percent at $1,272.80 an ounce. END TO RATE CUTS? "The world was really, really happy with this mainly because we're all addicted to zero interest rates," said Kim Forrest, research analyst at Fort Pitt Capital Group in Pittsburgh. When Draghi said future cuts would only happen under extreme circumstances, investors expecting even lower rates switched their strategy to risk off, Forrest said. U.S. stocks ended a volatile session flat and MSCI's all-country world stock index <.MIWD00000PUS> was down 0.04 percent. The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> ended down 5.23 points, or 0.03 percent, to 16,995.13, the S&P 500 <.SPX> gained 0.31 point, or 0.02 percent, to 1,989.57 and the Nasdaq Composite <.IXIC> fell 12.22 points, or 0.26 percent, to 4,662.16. The pan-regional FTSEurofirst 300 index <.FTEU3> closed 1.8 percent lower. Bond prices slipped following Draghi's mixed signals. "We saw a risk-on move initially on the back of the ECB accommodation and it put Treasury prices under pressure, but the Draghi rhetoric of 'no more deep cuts' reversed that," said Stanley Sun, interest rate strategist at Nomura Securities International. In the United States, the benchmark 10-year note was last down 11/32 in price to yield 1.931 percent, up from 1.892 percent on Wednesday. OIL FALLS Oil prices declined, with U.S. crude easing from three-month highs as refinery maintenance looked set to boost record domestic crude stockpiles. Also weighing on prices, sources said a meeting between oil producers to discuss a global pact on freezing production was unlikely to take place in Russia on March 20 so long as Iran refused to cooperate. Brent settled down $1.02, or 2.5 percent, at $40.05 a barrel, while U.S. crude slid 45 cents, or 1.2 percent, to settle at $37.84. (Additional reporting by Laila Kearney, Barani Krishnan and Tariro Mzezewa in New York; and Marc Jones in London; Editing by Bernadette Baum and James Dalgleish)

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