European equities rise as Dow advances further

Europe's main stock markets made strong gains Wednesday, boosted by a strong Wall Street opening as the Dow continued its push into record territory.

In afternoon trade, London's FTSE 100 index of top companies increased 1.18 percent to 6,388.00 points, Frankfurt's DAX 30 jumped 1.94 percent to 7,785.57 points and in Paris the CAC 40 leapt 2.10 percent to 3,747.55 points.

In Madrid, the Ibex 35 index shot up 3.77 percent to 8,169.00 points.

In Italy meanwhile, Milan's FTSE MIB rose 3.07 percent to 15,910 points on the back of a successful bond auction where the Italian Treasury raised 11 billion euros ($14 billion) in three and 12-month bills with borrowing costs down sharply from previous auctions, indicating greater investor confidence.

In foreign exchange activity, the European single currency hit a one-month high at $1.3122. It later stood at $1.3094, compared with $1.3080 in New York late on Tuesday.

In Wall Street action, the Dow continued to climb after pressing through another record close on Tuesday, when it ended at 14,673.46 points.

Traders appeared to look past US Federal Reserve meeting minutes that suggested the Fed was closer to ending its stimulus measures if the jobs market continues to improve as data released after the meeting was disappointing.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.69 percent to 14,774.25 points in early trading on Wednesday, echoed by the S&P 500 which rose 0.95 percent to 1,583.54 points, and the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index which lifted 1.29 percent to 3,279.63 points.

"We've seen a big turnaround in sentiment amongst our clients, who are now positioned in expectation of (European markets) catching up with the US benchmarks," said analyst Matt Basi at trading group CMC Markets.

"Rising demand and falling inflation in China is the perfect combo for cyclical stocks, and new Dow highs only serve to fuel the optimism further in the short term."

Asian markets were mostly higher on Wednesday, with Tokyo supported by the weak yen, while Shanghai slipped as official data showed a rare trade deficit for China in March.

China's customs agency said Wednesday exports climbed a below forecast 10.0 percent last month, and imports jumped a bigger-than-expected 14.1 percent, resulting in a trade deficit of $880 million. Economists had tipped a surplus of $14.7 billion.

"One positive that can be seen in the data is the improvement in imports which suggests domestic consumption is continuing to pick up." said Alpari analyst Craig Erlam.

"This is essential if China is going to maintain its high growth rates in the years to come as it makes the transition to more consumption driven growth rather than being overly reliant on its exports."

Hong Kong stocks added 0.75 percent and Tokyo rose 0.73 percent, while Seoul gained 0.77 percent, but Sydney was 0.18 percent lower and Shanghai finished flat.

The China data came one day after officials said inflation had come in below estimates, which analysts said indicates ongoing weakness in the world's number two economy, still struggling to recover from slower growth last year.

The yen recovered modestly, rising to 99.57 yen against the dollar, having hit a near four-year low of 99.66 against the dollar on Tuesday as it was weighed down by Bank of Japan stimulus moves.

The Japanese unit, which also struck a January 2010 low against the euro at 130.51 yen on Tuesday, rose to 130.39 yen in European trading on Wednesday.

On the London Bullion Market, gold prices firmed to $1,581.50 per ounce from $1,577.25 late on Tuesday.