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US bonds on track for biggest gain since May 2012

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U.S. Treasury prices rose on Friday on month-end buying and lingering concerns about emerging market economies, putting safe-haven bonds on track to notch their strongest gains in 20 months in January.

Investors continued to flee emerging markets as the latest round of central bank actions failed to offset concern about rising economic and political risks in many developing economies.

"The risk-off theme continues. You have money coming out of equities and into Treasuries. It's also definitely helping with month-end buying," said Justin Lederer, Treasury strategist at Cantor Fitzgerald in New York.

(Read more: EM turmoil steers US investors back to Europe)

The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note has fallen 35 basis points this month, marking the biggest decline since May of 2012. Bond yields move inversely to their prices.

In contrast, the Standard & Poor's 500 is down nearly 4 percent for the month, its biggest drop since May 2012.

The Federal Reserve's expected decision on Wednesday to cut its asset purchases by $10 billion to $65 billion a month removed some support from emerging market assets, resulting in steady buying of safe-haven bonds and selling of riskier assets.

The $10 billion cut heightened concerns surrounding Turkey, South Africa and other emerging markets as the U.S. central bank further pared the liquidity that has boosted higher-yielding emerging markets assets.

Fed data released Thursday showed that foreign central banks slashed their holdings of U.S. debt stored at the Federal Reserve by the most in seven months during the past week.

The latest Fed data gave hints that some foreign central banks may have sold their Treasurys holdings to raise cash to buy their own currencies on the open market to stabilize them from further damage due to emerging market jitters.

Data on economic activity released Friday had little impact on Treasuries prices. U.S. consumer spending rose in December according to Commerce Department figures, but an ebb in consumer confidence and signs of cooling in factory activity this month suggested economic growth could moderate in the first quarter.

Benchmark 10-year Treasury notes were last up 10/32 in price to yield 2.658 percent, compared with a yield of 2.70 percent late on Thursday. The 10-year yield fell to 2.646 percent earlier, which was its lowest level since early November.

On Wall Street, all three major U.S. stock indexes fell on Friday, with the benchmark Standard & Poor's 500 stock index dropping 0.43 percent.

—By Reuters

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