LONDON (Reuters) - World shares dipped on Monday and oil prices steadied due to investors' caution on whether the strength of the global economic recovery justifies the sharp rally so far this year.
U.S. stock index futures pointed to a similarly flat session on Wall Street, with traders reluctant to extend a rally that has taken the benchmark Standard and Poor's 500 index <.SPX> to its highest level in over five years.
The wariness is in anticipation of a series of significant U.S. economic events this week, including the initial estimate of fourth quarter GDP, the Federal Reserve's first policy meeting of the year and the January payrolls data.
"Markets don't go up in a straight line," said Garry Evans, global head of equity strategy at HSBC. "I think that people are realizing there could still be problems out there."
Adding to the potential pitfalls ahead were signs from Washington that the $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts due to take effect by March 1 could go ahead, threatening a hit to confidence in the giant U.S. economy.
MSCI's benchmark world share index <.MIWD00000PUS> was down 0.1 percent on Monday, though it has gained nearly 4.5 percent this month on signs of economic recovery in the United States, stabilization in the euro zone and accelerating growth in China.
European stocks were unchanged, with the broad FTSEurofirst 300 index <.FTEU3> of top company shares hovering just under a two-year high.
The market's softer tone also followed a weaker session in Asia, where falls in technology companies saw the MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan <.MIAPJ0000PUS> drop 0.4 percent.
EUROPEAN ECONOMY FLAT
Data from the European Central Bank gave another reminder that the recent surge in financial markets is not being matched in the real economy.
Lending by banks to euro zone companies, consumers and home buyers contracted in December for the eighth month running as recessions across much of the region sap the appetite to borrow and banks' willingness to lend.
"As of the end of 2012, there was no sign of improvement in credit flows," said Marie Diron, an economist who works on Ernst & Young's euro zone forecasts. "However, we think that during 2013, with a much more secure economic environment than last year, banks will start easing credit standards somewhat, and companies will be more willing to borrow to invest in the euro zone."
Data showing inflows to global equity funds had slowed in the past week, and comments from several major investment banks noting signs that the market may be reaching a natural top added to the caution.
Among the warning signs was Citigroup's U.S. Economic Surprise Indicator, which tracks how new data compares with expectations <.CESIUSD>. This has turned negative, while the survey by the American Association of Individual Investors (AAII) remains in the top 5 percent of its observed readings.
JP Morgan said in a note that historical data for each of these readings shows they are normally followed by lackluster equity returns.
The euro was down 0.2 percent against the dollar at $1.3435, slipping from an 11-month high of $1.3480 hit on Friday.
The euro rallied on Friday after data showed European banks plan to repay more than expected of the loans they borrowed from the European Central Bank during the debt crisis.
The early repayments mean the ECB is the first major central bank to start moving away from unconventional monetary policy measures, unlike the U.S. Federal Reserve and Bank of Japan, which are buying bonds to stimulate growth. More stimulus usually weighs down on a currency as it increases its supply.
"There is still some room for euro to go higher, but the road upwards will be characterized by bumps, pauses and even by corrections," said Ulrich Leuchtmann, head of FX research at Commerzbank.
The dollar was down 0.2 percent against the yen at 90.70 yen, though the Japanese currency is expected to remain weak on expectations that Japan's government will keep pushing for aggressive monetary easing, whereas the Fed's view could change if the economic recovery strengthens.
In commodity markets oil prices steadied near a three-month high at just over $113 a barrel before the Fed meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday and the employment data on Friday that should show more signs of recovery in the world's biggest oil consumer.
Other commodities also rose on evidence that the world's number two economy China is now picking up pace, along with optimism that the euro zone is past the worst, Japan's efforts to revive its stagnant economy and the signs of U.S. growth.
Growth-attuned palladium rose to $741.75 an ounce, its highest since September 2011, leading climbs by platinum and copper, while traditional safe-haven gold struggled near a two-week low.
"China's economic growth could be over 8 percent this year. China's economy supports a very large part of global demand," Lou Jiwei, chairman of the country's sovereign wealth fund said over the weekend.
(Reporting by Anooja Debnath.; Editing by Will Waterman)
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