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Stimulus hopes boost world stock markets

SEOUL, South Korea - World stock markets gained Wednesday as investors anticipated further stimulus measures from Europe and China while U.S. economic data reinforced recovery hopes in the world's largest economy.

Germany's DAX was up 1.1 percent at 9,443.09 and France's CAC 40 jumped 0.9 percent to 4,381.54. Britain's FTSE 100 rose 0.5 percent to 6,636.54.

Wall Street was set to gain with S&P 500 futures up 0.2 percent at 1,862.90. Dow futures rose 0.2 percent to 16,335.

Japan's Nikkei 225, Asia's heavyweight index added 0.4 percent to 14,477.16. Hong Kong's Hang Seng gained 0.7 percent to 21,887.75 and South Korea's Kospi rose 1.2 percent to 1,964.31. Australia's S&P ASX/200 added 0.8 percent to 5,376.80.

Investors welcomed European Central Bank President Mario Draghi's speech on Tuesday in Paris that monetary policy should support the economies of countries that use the euro.

"This is a clear sign that the ECB will continue to hold its finger over the rates button," IG strategist Evan Lucas said in a market commentary.

"The bank is looking to find a way to chase out funds locked up in wealth products that will then be redirected to areas of the economy that are looking for growth funding."

Some investors are also banking that China's leaders will introduce pro-growth measures to prop up a slowing economy. A preliminary reading of China's manufacturing, released Monday, showed activity at an 8- month low in March.

Reports showing strength in the U.S. economy also underpinned investor sentiment. The Conference Board said its measure of consumer confidence rose last month to its highest since January 2008. Another release showed U.S. home prices edged down in January for a third month, but were at a high level compared with a year earlier.

In energy markets, benchmark U.S. oil for May delivery was up 3 cents at $99.22 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 41 cents to settle at $99.19 on Tuesday.

In currencies, the euro fell to $1.3798 from $1.3823 late Tuesday. The dollar gained to 102.32 yen from 102.26 yen.

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