File picture: Alex Grimm

London - European and Asian shares climbed to two-week highs on Wednesday, with investor confidence getting a welcome boost from upbeat US data, talk of fresh central bank stimulus and diminishing concern over Ukraine.

European stocks picked up where Asia left off. Early gains of 0.3 to 0.7 percent for London's FTSE Germany's DAX and France's CAC lifted the region's shares to their highest March 12.

After a difficult few weeks in which tension between Russia and the West amplified jitters about a slowing Chinese economy and future US interest rates hikes, investors appear to be regaining their poise.

Encouraging them were two reports on the US economy: consumer confidence rose more than expected in March, to its highest since January 2008, according to data released on Tuesday, and house prices increased in January.

The reports bolstered the view that softness earlier this year was caused by bad weather, not inherent economic weakness.

Risk appetite also got a lift from perceptions that tension over Ukraine is easing. US President Barack Obama and his allies agreed on Tuesday to hold off on economic sanctions unless Moscow goes beyond the seizure of Crimea.

“Concerns around the three C's (cold, Crimea, China) are dropping off as the effect of the US winter subsides, the Crimean conflict is no longer affecting markets and China has seen stimulation bets ramping up,” Evan Lucas, a market strategist at IG, said in a note.

Investor relief was palpable in Russia, where the rouble firmed to pre-Crimea crisis levels.

It added 0.4 percent to Tuesday's 1.5 percent jump against the dollar-euro basket , its biggest gain in 1 1/2 years.



The MSCI emerging equities index also rose to a two-week high. Stocks from Poland to Turkey rose more than 1 percent after Brazilian shares touched five-week highs, despite a downgrade of Brazil's credit rating by rating firm Standard & Poor's.

Indian shares reached a record high and the rupee rose to an eight-month high on hopes recent policy changes will lure more foreign investment inflows.

Among the major currencies, the focus was on what appears to be an increasingly divergent outlook for monetary policy in the US on one hand and Europe and Japan on the other.

The euro dipped to $1.3794 against a broadly stronger dollar.

The single currency was being weighed down by Tuesday's talk of unconventional easing by some of the European Central Bank's normally more conservative members.

James Bullard, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, helped the dollar when he reiterated last week's suggestion from the Fed that US rates may rise in spring next year, saying in Hong Kong the US outlook was “quite good.”



Hopes that Beijing will take steps to bolster its economy underpinned Chinese shares and many markets linked to China. Brazil and Australia were among the beneficiaries, along with a host of commodities.

Following a recent run of disappointing data, many economists now expect China's growth to miss the government's target of 7.5 percent this year in the absence of effective support measures.

Mainland Chinese shares dipped slightly but remained not far from a one-month high, even as rumours of insolvency led to a run on small banks amid growing anxiety about potential insolvencies in China.

“Investors are betting on stimulus because Chinese authorities have done everything they could to achieve the target in the past,” said Sho Aoyama, senior market analyst at Mizuho Securities.

The Australian dollar rose to a four-month high of $0.9227.

Other major currencies were stuck in well-worn ranges, with the yen changing hands at 102.29 yen to the dollar.

Precious metals steadied. They had lost some of their allure over the last week as concern over Ukraine declined and US short-term rates rose.

Gold climbed back to $1,313.20 per ounce from a five-week low of $1,305.59 on Tuesday.

Silver recovered from a seven-week low to $19.78 per ounce. - Reuters