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EMERGING MARKETS-EM stocks hit 19-month high as investors eye trade deal

Sagarika Jaisinghani

* Phase 1 U.S.-China trade deal to be signed on Jan. 15

* Markets will look at actual wording of the pact - analyst

* Chinese, South Korean shares among biggest gainers

* EM currencies also firm ahead of central bank meetings

Jan 13 (Reuters) - Emerging market stocks rose to fresh 19-month highs on Monday, as investors awaited the signing of a U.S.-China trade deal this week, with a spate of economic data and central bank meetings also expected to indicate the health of regional economies.

MSCI's broad index of emerging market stocks was up 0.7%, gaining for a third straight session in the run-up to a Jan. 15 ceremony to sign the Phase 1 trade deal in Washington.

Chinese blue-chip shares ended almost 1% higher, while trade-sensitive South Korean shares rose 1% to their highest close in nine months.

"With most of the broad strokes of a rather limited deal already revealed, what markets will be watching for more closely will be the precise legal wording of the deal," said Vishnu Varathan, senior economist at Mizuho Bank.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Sunday China's commitments in the initial deal were not changed during the translation process and will be released as the document is signed.

Investors will also be looking at the next stage of negotiations to call a truce to the 18-month tariff spat between the world's top two economies. U.S. President Donald Trump said last month that talks on a Phase 2 deal would be underway soon.

"Signing the (Phase 1) deal is but a baby step in a long road ahead," Varathan said.

Demand for riskier emerging market assets has also returned with the easing of U.S.-Iran tensions, which spiked in early January after the United States killed a top Iranian general, prompting a retaliation from Tehran.

A basket of developing world currencies gained 0.3% on Monday.

The Turkish lira rose 0.2% ahead of a central bank meeting later in the week. The central bank slashed its key policy rate last year, but a recent uptick in inflation figures has narrowed the window for more cuts in 2020.

South Africa's rand also firmed 0.2%, after easing in the past two sessions as the country grappled with prolonged power cuts due to a shortage of generation capacity at state utility Eskom.

The South African Reserve Bank is scheduled to hold its monetary policy meeting on Thursday, after keeping rates on hold at its last meeting.

The Czech crown was up slightly versus the euro, as data showed consumer prices rose by 0.2% on a monthly basis in December, mainly due to growth in food prices.

All eyes this week will also be on a clutch of inflation figures from regional economies, including Hungary, Poland and Russia. For GRAPHIC on emerging market FX performance 2020, see http://tmsnrt.rs/2egbfVh For GRAPHIC on MSCI emerging index performance 2020, see https://tmsnrt.rs/2OusNdX

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For RUSSIAN market report, see (Reporting by Sagarika Jaisinghani in Bengaluru; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu)