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Chinese stimulus hopes give markets a boost

LONDON Chinese stocks led the way Wednesday as investors grew more confident that policymakers in the world's second-largest economy would back another batch of stimulus measures.

The catalyst to the optimism across the markets was a Chinese government pledge to maintain policies intended to strengthen the economy and an expression of willingness to "fine tune" them and make them more effective.

China's main Shanghai Composite Index jumped 2.9 percent to 2,031.91 while the smaller Shenzhen Composite Index soared 3.8 percent to 771.72. Hong Kong's Hang Seng joined in on the act too, ending 2.2 percent higher at 22,270.91.

Those gains helped shore up stock markets in Europe despite an unexpectedly big 1.2 percent monthly decline in retail sales across the 17 European Union countries that use the euro in October. However, the euro fell on the news, and was trading 0.1 percent lower at $1.3086.

"As we saw following the global recession in 2008, a strong Chinese economy could help drive the recovery once again, with growth currently sluggish at best in most major economies," said Craig Erlam, market analyst at Alpari. "Any news which is pro-growth in China is always going to be well received in Europe and the U.S."

In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was up 0.2 percent at 5,881 while Germany's DAX rose the same rate to 7,447. The CAC-40 in France was 0.3 percent higher at 3,589.

Wall Street was poised for a solid opening too with Dow futures up 0.4 percent and the broader S&P 500 futures 0.3 percent higher.

The focus in the U.S. though will likely remain on the progress of negotiations between the White House and Congress on a deal to avert the so-called "fiscal cliff" of automatic spending cuts and tax increases at the start of the new year. Without a deal, the U.S. could well fall back into recession and push much of the world down with it.

Despite political posturing and a deep divide on critical issues, most analysts think a deal acceptable to both President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans will be cobbled together before the end of the year.

Investors are also focusing on a raft of U.S. economic data due for release over the coming days. Later Wednesday there's a monthly non-manufacturing survey from the Instititute for Supply Management and the private payrolls survey from ADP. Both could impact upon expectations for Friday's official nonfarm payrolls report for November. The figures could be distorted by the impact of Superstorm Sandy, which battered much of the eastern seaboard.

"Fiscal cliff uncertainties and the impact of Hurricane Sandy may subdue jobs growth in the month," said Neil MacKinnon, global macro strategist at VTB Capital.

Earlier in Asia, the gains weren't just confined to China. Japan's Nikkei 225 index rose 0.4 percent to 9,468.84, its highest close since April 27 while South Korea's Kospi added 0.6 percent to 1,947.04.

Oil prices tracked equities higher, with the benchmark New York rate up 28 cents at $88.78 a barrel.

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