Stocks shrug off weak European GDP data

PARIS Stock markets shrugged off weak economic data in Europe on Wednesday even as news hit that the 17-country euro currency bloc is now in its longest-ever recession.

Europe's economic motor, Germany, returned to growth but still disappointed. Its gross domestic product rose 0.1 percent in the first quarter of the year. That's less than the 0.3 percent rise analysts were expecting. Meanwhile, the French economy, the bloc's second-largest, fell back into recession.

But after dropping in morning trading, European stocks were up in the afternoon.

France's CAC-40 index was up 0.3 percent to 3,979, while the DAX in Germany rose 0.1 percent to 8,350. Meanwhile, Britain's FTSE index of leading shares added 0.1 percent to 6,695, partially on the back of positive earnings.

"Stocks have largely recovered from their early malaise to re-test recent highs as strong corporate numbers took center stage," said Toby Morris, a sales trader at CMC Markets UK, citing results from easyJet and the London Stock Exchange.

U.S. markets, meanwhile, barely budged in early trading in New York.

The Dow Jones industrial average was even at 15,217, while the broader Standard & Poor's index was up 0.1 percent to 1,652.

Earlier, Asian stocks focused on an improving U.S. economy. On Tuesday, a report from the National Federation of Independent Business showed a slight improvement in confidence among small business owners in the U.S. in April.

Japan's Nikkei 225 index surged 2.3 percent to close at 15,096.03, propelled by a falling yen and a surge in Sony's shares.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 0.5 percent to 23,044.24. South Korea's Kospi added 0.1 percent to 1,971.26. Benchmarks in India, Thailand, Singapore and Taiwan also rose. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 shed 0.6 percent to 5,191.70.

But the poor European data was weighing on oil prices since a slowing economy uses less energy. Benchmark oil for June delivery fell 70 cents to $93.51 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

In currencies, the euro fell to $1.2885 from $1.2937 late Tuesday in New York.