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European stocks up modestly ahead of US data

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[March 31, 2010]  LONDON (AP) -- European stock markets rose modestly Wednesday following a late rebound on Wall Street in the previous session and ahead of a raft of U.S. economic data, though the long Easter break kept trading volumes light.

The FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was up 13.76 points, or 0.2 percent, at 5,686.08 while Germany's DAX rose 13.16 points, or 0.2 percent, to 6,155.61. The CAC-40 in France was 7.64 points, or 0.2 percent, higher at 3,995.05.

Wall Street was poised to dip slightly following a flat performance on Tuesday -- Dow futures were down 10 points, or 0.1 percent, at 10,844 while the broader Standard & Poor's 500 futures fell 1.5 point, or 0.1 percent, to 1,167.90.

Tim Hughes, head of sales trading at IG Index, said a raft of U.S. economic data later, including the monthly private payrolls report from ADP, a manufacturing survey for the Chicago region and crude oil inventory figures "all have the potential to add a small amount of volatility to an otherwise bland trading landscape later in the day."

The big event this week is Friday's U.S. nonfarm payrolls data for March -- traditionally this can set the market tone for a week or two but this month's figures will be released as many traders head off for the Easter break. All major stock indexes in Europe and the U.S. are closed for Good Friday.

The report is expected to show employers added 170,000 jobs in March. That would be only the second increase since the recession began in late 2007.

The euro, meanwhile, rallied 0.4 percent to $1.3464 after official figures showed inflation in the 16 countries that use the euro spiked to its highest level in 15 months during March. The dollar rose 0.6 percent to 93.36 yen.

In its preliminary estimate for the year to March, Eurostat, the EU's statistics office, said consumer prices in the eurozone rose by 1.5 percent, way above February's equivalent rate of 0.9 percent and market expectations for a more modest increase to 1.2 percent.

Eurostat did not provide any more details but a fuller analysis of why inflation jumped to its highest level since December will emerge on April 16, when a broader analysis is published.

Despite the euro's advance Wednesday, the currency continues to be dogged by worries surrounding Greece's debt crisis.

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Even though the European Union finally agreed a backstop for the debt-laden country last week, investors remain concerned about the Greek government's ability to tap the financial markets for more cash -- two bond issues this week met with muted success.

The most visible sign of unease in the markets is in the spread between Greek and German 10-year bond yields -- the so-called spread between the two is indicative of investor unease, rising as it has to over 3.4 percentage points.

The current spread is more or less the same as before the rescue plan's announcement last Thursday and up from the 3.06 percentage points on Monday.

In Asia, trading was fairly lackluster. Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 stock average ended down 7.20 points, or less than 0.1 percent, at 11,089.94 while Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 135.44 points, or 0.6 percent, at 21,239.35. south Korea's index fell less than 0.5 percent to 1,692.85.

Australia's benchmark dropped 0.8 percent and China's Shanghai index was off 0.6 percent.

Benchmark crude for May delivery was up 49 cents at $82.86 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 20 cents to settle at $82.37 on Tuesday.

[Associated Press; By PAN PYLAS]

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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