IN spite of unease about the future of political reform in Russia, military conflict in the former Yugoslav republic, and recession-linked economic woes in Western Europe, global stock markets continue to post solid gains.
The consensus among many financial watchers and economists is that - barring a worst-case scenario such as the collapse of the Yeltsin government in Moscow - prices on global markets should continue increasing slowly.
For this year through March 15, the German DAX index has jumped by 11 percent, according to Salomon Brothers; the French CAC 40 index has climbed by 6 percent; Britain's FTSE index has moved up by 2 percent. All of those indexes compare favorably with the Standard & Poor's 500 index in the United States, which has moved up 3 percent through the same period.
Another way of measuring gains in overseas markets is to look at selected global or regional stock indexes. Thus, the world index of Morgan Stanley Capital International - a weighted index that measures market gains in the 20 largest developed countries - is up 2.7 percent for the first two months of 1993, compared to a net decline of 4.7 percent for 1992 as a whole.
Morgan Stanley's North American index (comprising the US and Canada) is up 2.3 percent; the Pacific index (for Asia) is up 4.7 percent; even Europe, which has been somewhat of a stock market laggard compared with other regions, is up 1.4 percent.
"Global markets are performing fairly well," says a Morgan Stanley spokeswoman.
In recent weeks the mounting turmoil in Russia has triggered some negative reverberations in world financial markets. Nonetheless, commodities markets, where trading has been affected most significantly by events in Russia, appear to be settling down since President Yeltsin avoided impeachment by communist hard-liners.
How long those markets will remain calm, however, is questionable. Russia is a major producer of oil, gold, platinum, and nickel. It is also a major purchaser of Western agricultural products, especially grain. Were Russia to move toward open civil war, world commodities flows could be quickly interrupted.
Gold prices have been stable around $330, notes a new report by Bear Stearns & Co. Gold tends to be a bellwether of global investment community concerns, with prices usually moving up as investors fret over worrisome political or economic news.
The engine driving global financial markets is the expectation of continued low interest rates in the US and slightly falling rates in Europe, economists say. The low interest rates make stocks look better compared with alternative investments, notes Peter Perkins, an economist with DRI/McGraw-Hill, a consulting firm in Lexington, Mass.
The strength of European stock markets has been remarkable, considering the adverse economic circumstances of slow to falling growth and high unemployment in many European nations, including Germany, France, and Italy.
"We see a slight decline in gross domestic product for Europe for this year, down about one-tenth of 1 percent," says Mr. Perkins. But the turmoil in Russia "clearly worries Western European nations because of the potential of disruptions in trade patterns." One factor working in Europe's favor: The US dollar is now climbing to its highest levels since the mid-1980s in a number of European nations. This should encourage more Americans to travel across the Atlantic. The high dollar also works against US e xports.