* Oil, base metal prices fall again as dollar gains
* Euro under pressure as ECB seen easing next week
* Bond spreads widen sharply to underpin US dollar
* Pfizer set to buy Allergan for over $150 bln-sources
By Marc Jones
LONDON, Nov 23 (Reuters) - Commodity markets were hit and stocks and bonds were in the firing line on Monday, as expectations for a first increase in U.S. interest rates in almost a decade next month pushed the dollar to a seven-month high.
Industrial metals copper and nickel plunged and oil prices whipsawed, while the euro fell as low as $1.06 as the prospect of more policy easing by the ECB in Europe was compounded by a security lockdown in Brussels.
European stocks were down 0.5 percent despite better-than-expected euro zone data as the slump in commodities and the unrelenting appreciation of the dollar dominated sentiment at the start of the week.
Copper slumped to a fresh six-and-a-half year low and nickel dived more than 4 percent to its lowest since 2003 as traders bet metals prices still had further to fall, given slowing factory demand in China.
Oil prices were highly volatile, with U.S. crude off $1.30 or 3 percent at $40.60 a barrel at one point and Brent down 2 percent at $43.57 before both jumped on comments from Saudi Arabia on co-operation with other producers.
That put commodity-linked currencies such as the Russian rouble on another ride and even safe-haven gold was not immune as it hovered around $1,070.56 an ounce, having touched its lowest level in nearly six years.
“The biggest factor here is the dollar,” said Hans van Cleef a senior energy economist at ABN Amro in Amsterdam. “It is having an impact on all major commodities at the moment.”
“More and more investors are watching it (commodities sell-off) and sentiment therefore gets more jittery.”
Wall Street was expected to see a subdued start to Thanksgiving week with November manufacturing and home sales figures set to feed the Fed rate hike debate.
The dollar’s fresh push left the euro at a seven-month low overnight, though the common currency managed to fend off the market’s first attempt at dragging it below $1.06.
It was given some help as purchasing manager data showed euro zone business activity picking up at its fastest pace since mid-2011, partly thanks to the currency’s recent weakness.
That also helped Europe’s main bourses claw back some of their early losses, although the early woes around commodities ensured miners and oil and gas firms remained the worst performers.
The healthcare sector was also in focus after Pfizer secured formal board approval on Sunday for its more than $150 billion acquisition of Botox maker Allergan, that will create the world’s biggest drugmaker.
ECB stimulus hopes helped underpin Europe. The head of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, last week offered the strongest hint yet that the ECB will unveil fresh easing measures at its Dec. 3 policy meeting.
Its stance is in stark contrast with that of the U.S. Federal Reserve, which seems set to lift rates in December for the first time in a decade.
As a result the premium offered by U.S. 2-year paper over the German equivalent yawned to 130 basis points, the widest since 2006. Overall, though, euro zone yields edged higher ahead of the Fed and a heavy week of sovereign debt sales.
Against a basket of currencies the dollar firmed 0.3 percent to 99.881, whilst also rising to 123.19 yen.
Emerging market were being squeezed again although Argentinean assets got a boost from the election victory of pro-business opposition candidate Mauricio Macri who has promised to open up the ailing economy to investors.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan ended off 0.2 percent. South Korea’s main index gained 0.7 percent while Australian stocks added 0.4 percent. Japan’s Nikkei was closed for a holiday.
“Interestingly, (equity) markets are treating the prospects of policy divergence reasonably well,” said Jo Masters, a senior economist at Australia and New Zealand Bank.
“But with two of the world’s major central banks about to head on divergent policy paths, can such smooth sailing continue over the months ahead?” they wondered. “Increased policy tension is likely to mean that volatility remains elevated.”
Additional reporting by Wayne Cole in Sydney Editing by Jeremy Gaunt