File picture: Alex Grimm

World shares, commodities and growth-linked currencies rose on Thursday as stronger-than-expected Chinese trade data added to growing confidence about a pickup in global economic activity.

However, gains in Europe's equity markets were more limited as investors wait to hear what European Central Bank President Mario Draghi will say about the outlook for the recession-hit euro area after the bank's policy meeting later in the day.

“We're not expecting him to move on policy, but what Mr Draghi might have to say could be of interest with respect to possible interest rate cuts further down the line,” Michael Hewson, senior analyst at CMC Markets, said.

An auction by Spain of up to 5 billion euros ($6.5 billion) of new debt was also being closely watched for clues on investor sentiment towards the struggling peripheral nations of Europe.

The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 was little changed in early trade, just below a 2-year high of 1,169.19 points, with London's FTSE 100, Paris's CAC-40 and Frankfurt's DAX also flat.

But strong gains in Asian markets earlier had lifted the MSCI world equity index up 0.15 percent.

A 0.3 percent gain in US stock futures also hinted at a solid Wall Street start but worries about possible earnings weakness in the current reporting season were capping the gains.

China reported that its exports had rebounded surprisingly sharply in December to hit a seven-month high, while imports grew at double the expected rate.

A broad measure of Chinese credit growth also expanded strongly, adding to evidence that annual growth in the world's second-largest economy was headed towards 8 percent in the final quarter of 2012.

The data sent the Australian dollar to a three-week high of $1.0568 and contributed to further falls in the Japanese yen.

The yen has been weakening on expectations of massive fiscal spending and aggressive monetary easing in the coming weeks.

The dollar was up 0.4 percent to 88.22 yen, inching closer to its highest since July 2010 of 88.48 reached on Friday. The euro was also up 0.4 percent to 115.25 yen. Last week it hit 115.99 yen, its highest since July 2011.

The single currency was little changed at $1.3060 ahead of the European Central Bank's policy meeting, where it is expected to keep interest rates steady.

The growth in imports revealed in the Chinese data also stoked hopes of greater demand from the world's second largest in the commodity lifting copper, iron ore and oil prices.

London copper was up 0.5 percent at $8,125 a tonne while US crude futures rose 0.6 percent to $93.66 a barrel and Brent futures added 0.5 percent to $112.27. - Reuters