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Europe: Stocks win lift from German data


[LONDON] Europe's leading stock markets gained on Tuesday, winning a boost from German data and expectations of ECB stimulus, as investors also await key elections in Greece.

London's FTSE 100 index closed up 0.52 per cent to 6,620.10 points, as investors looked ahead to a meeting of the European Central Bank (ECB) on Thursday with the markets now firmly expecting it will begin a sovereign bond-buying programme.

Frankfurt's DAX 30 index hit a new record close, climbing 0.14 per cent to 10,257.13 points, and the CAC 40 in Paris rose 1.16 per cent to end the day at 4,446.02 points.

The euro retreated to US$1.1568 from $1.1606 late in New York on Monday as traders nervously awaited a close weekend election in Greece, where an anti-austerity party is leading in opinion polls.

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Investment sentiment in Germany rose for the third month in a row in January, shrugging off the market turmoil sparked by the Greek political crisis and the Swiss franc shock, a survey found on Tuesday.

The widely watched investor confidence index calculated by the ZEW economic institute jumped 13.5 points to 48.4 points in January, its highest level in 11 months.

"January's rise in ZEW investor sentiment suggests that confidence in the German economy is holding up well despite fears for Greece," said Jennifer McKeown, senior European economist at consultants Capital Economics.

"Presumably any worries about the effect of the Greek crisis on the German economy were offset by expectations of ECB quantitative easing and hopes of a boost to exports from the weakening euro," she added.

Stock indices have risen since late last week on fresh signals that the ECB will launch a bond-buying stimulus programme, known as quantitative easing or QE, at its monetary policy meeting Thursday, news that has weighed heavily on the euro.

QE expectations have also been fuelled by concerns over the chronically low level of inflation across the single currency bloc and fears that the region could slip into deflation - a sustained and widespread drop in prices.

While falling prices may sound good for consumers, deflation can trigger a vicious spiral in which businesses and households delay purchases, throttling demand and causing companies to lay off workers.

In Greece meanwhile, the country will never recover without a generous debt cut, the politician likely to become the next finance minister said Tuesday.

"To promote reforms one must settle the debt issue," Giannis Dragasakis, the senior economist at anti-austerity party Syriza which is favoured to win Sunday's general election, told AFP in an interview.

Syriza, which has a steady lead of around three percentage points in pre-election polls, is trying to strike a delicate balance between fiscal diligence and debt forgiveness.

The left-wing party's plan to renegotiate Greece's multi-billion bailout with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund is already raising hackles among the country's creditors.

IMF chief Christine Lagarde on Monday warned of "consequences" if European countries try to renegotiate their debts.

The IMF on Tuesday sharply cut its 2015-16 world growth forecast of only six months ago, saying lower oil prices did not offset pervasive weaknesses around the globe.

The IMF said poorer prospects in China, Russia, the euro area and Japan will hold world GDP growth to just 3.5 per cent this year and 3.7 per cent in 2016.

Wall Street markets fell in early trade Tuesday, as investors dumped oilfield stocks after a further decline in crude prices.

Around mid-day in New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.72 per cent to 17,385.03 points.

The broad-based S&P 500 dropped 1.32 per cent to 1,992.67 points, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite gave up 0.51 per cent to stand at 4,610.54 Asian markets mostly rose Tuesday after China released data showing its economy grew a little faster than expected.

Shanghai gained 1.82 percent a day after slumping 7.7 per cent in response to an official crackdown on margin trading. Hong Kong rose 0.90 per cent, or 212.67 points, to 23,951.16.

Tokyo shares jumped 2.07 per cent, Seoul closed 0.82 per cent higher, while Sydney was flat.