European stocks climb on bright data

Europe's main stock markets advanced strongly for a second day running on Wednesday as investors focused on upbeat economic data and set aside Ukraine-Russia worries, dealers said.

London's benchmark FTSE 100 index climbed 0.50 percent to 6,638.12 points in afternoon trade and in Paris the CAC 40 index jumped 1.24 percent to 4,397.95 points compared with Tuesday's close.

Frankfurt's DAX 30 rallied 1.54 percent to 9,481.92 points, boosted also by data showing German consumer confidence held at a seven-year high in March.

"Positive US and Asian sentiment overnight has fed into ... the European session, as concerns over Russia take a backseat for now," said CMC Markets analyst Alexander Young.

"The bright start has been underpinned by a US session boosted by better than expected consumer confidence and increased expectations of some form of Chinese stimulus lifting Asian equities."

Wall Street also surged higher on the opening bell after a report showed US durable goods orders rose in February on the strength of the transportation sector.

Five minutes into trade, the Dow Jones Industrial Average jumped 77.91 (0.48 percent) to 16,445.79.

The broad-based S&P 500 tacked on 7.46 (0.40 percent) at 1,873.08, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index added 17.62 (0.42 percent) at 4,251.89.

The top gainer on the London stock market was financial services provider Standard Life, whose share price surged 5.19 percent to 393.2 pence.

Investors welcomed news that Standard Life had agreed to buy fund manager Ignis for £390 million ($644 million, 465 million euros) to boost growth.

In Paris, the biggest riser was Pernod Ricard, whose share price gained 2.72 percent to 83.92 euros after the global drinks giant won a broker upgrade from Deutsche Bank.

- Missile tests -

Asian equities mostly rose on Wednesday as dealers welcomed the US data, while there was muted response to a missile test by North Korea.

Tokyo stocks added 0.37 percent, buoyed also by investors picking up stocks to lock in dividends before the new tax year starts in April.

Hong Kong won 0.72 percent, Sydney gained 0.75 percent and Seoul rose 1.19 percent, while Shanghai slipped 0.18 percent in value.

Asian traders seemed unmoved by news that North Korea test-fired two medium-range missiles early Wednesday, as US President Barack Obama hosted a landmark Japan-South Korea summit.

South Korea's defence ministry said the missiles flew 650 kilometres (400 miles) into the Sea of Japan (East Sea), upping the ante after a series of short-range missile and rocket launches by the North in recent weeks.

The euro eased after the European Central Bank suggested it would be willing to further loosen monetary policy as it grapples with low inflation.

In foreign exchange trading on Wednesday, the euro fell to $1.3793 from $1.3825 late on Tuesday in New York.

The European single currency dropped to 83.34 British pence from 83.63 pence, while the pound firmed to $1.6550 from $1.6528 on Tuesday.

On the London Bullion Market, the price of gold fell to $1,310.61 an ounce from $1,313.50 on Tuesday.