LONDON (Reuters) - Relative calm returned to global markets on Thursday, as traders took a brief break from worrying about a global trade war and focused back on how fast the European Central Bank will end its 2.5 trillion euro stimulus program.

FILE PHOTO: The European Central Bank (ECB) headquarters are pictured in Frankfurt, Germany December 14, 2017. REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski

Both European [.EU] and Asian [.T] share markets edged higher — the former for a fourth day — after U.S. President Donald Trump’s push to introduce protectionist tariffs was tempered by signs he could spare some key trade partners.

Germany’s Dax and the euro both lingered in the red though as a bigger-than-expected drop in German industrial orders reinforced euro zone caution after the weekend’s inconclusive Italian election.

It may all argue for a more neutral message from ECB chief Mario Draghi later. Markets are on high alert for any signal on when it will end more than three years of unprecedented money printing.

“They have stretched out the (buying) cycle and that made sense to us,” said Shoqat Bunglawala, Head of the Global Portfolio Solutions Group for EMEA and Asia Pacific at Goldman Sachs Asset Management.

“We would expect them to end purchases this year but we think they will still stay flexible if there is any change to the growth picture in Europe.”

Highlighting the strength of the global economy, Chinese data showed both exports and imports rose more than 20 percent in the first two months of this year from a year earlier.

In the currency market, the U.S. dollar stabilized against other major currencies after its recent hit from fears about the tariff plan while the Mexican peso and Canadian dollar recovered from their steep losses. [/FRX]

The euro traded flat at $1.2406, having risen to $1.2447 on Wednesday, its highest levels since Feb. 16. The currency has been rising since it hit a seven-week low of $1.21545 hit on Thursday, when Trump unveiled his tariff plan.

Bond markets were also broadly steady with U.S. Treasuries stuck at 2.88 percent and Germany’s benchmark 10-year bond yield barely budged at 0.66 percent having hit a five-week low of 0.60 percent on Monday.

The ECB will publish new forecasts for its main target of euro zone inflation and for growth later, which will feed the debate on its end to stimulus.


In Asia, MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan had risen 1.0 percent, while in Japan the Nikkei gained 0.5 percent.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng led the region with rise of 1.4 percent after China’s surprisingly strong trade data.

FILE PHOTO: A man shelters under an umbrella as he walks past the London Stock Exchange in London, Britain August 24, 2015. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett

On Wall Street, the S&P 500 ended down just 0.05 percent at 2,726.8 after an initial loss of almost one percent, with tech shares being a major

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