By CARLO PIOVANOAssociated Press
LONDON (AP) - A positive start to the U.S. corporate earnings season and a sharp improvement in China's monthly trade helped boost world markets Thursday.
Stock indexes rose after a handful of better-than-expected results from U.S. companies sparked gains on Wall Street. Consumer products maker Helen of Troy, whose brands include Dr. Scholl's and Vidal Sassoon, reported a 15 percent profit increase. Electronic payments processor Global Payments said its fiscal second-quarter earnings rose nearly 15 percent, beating analyst expectations.
A rebound in trade figures for China, the world's second-largest economy, also suggested a recovery in global demand, lifting investment sentiment. Export growth more than quadrupled in December from November's level, to 14.1 percent. Imports rose 6 percent after failing to grow at all in November.
By midday in Europe, Britain's FTSE 100 was up 0.1 percent to 6,102.67 while Germany's DAX rose 0.2 percent to 7,736.44. France's CAC-40 fell 0.2 percent to 3,708.95.
U.S. stocks were poised for gains. Dow Jones industrial futures rose 0.3 percent to 13,360 while S&P 500 futures added 0.3 percent to 1,459.50 ahead of the release of weekly U.S. jobless claims.
Later in the day, the European Central Bank is expected to keep interest rates unchanged for the 17-country eurozone despite the weak economy. Investors will listen closely to ECB President Mario Draghi's press conference after the rate meeting for any changes in outlook on economic growth and hints that rates may be cut again from their current low of 0.75 percent.
The Bank of England is also expected to keep its monetary policies unchanged.
Earlier in Asia, Japan's Nikkei 225 index rose 0.7 percent to close at 10,652.64. South Korea's Kospi added 0.8 percent to 2,006.80. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 advanced 0.3 percent to 4,723. Benchmarks in Singapore, Taiwan and New Zealand also rose.
Hong Kong's Hang Seng gained 0.6 percent to 23,354.31 following a decision by the China Securities Regulatory Commission to allow some initial public offerings of mainland companies to be carried out in Hong Kong.
The move is an effort to clear a backlog of IPOs that the understaffed CSRC cannot handle, said Francis Lun, managing director of Lyncean Holdings in Hong Kong.
"It's a practical way to handle an emergency problem," Lun said. It will boost the Hong Kong exchange's market capitalization by one-third, he said.
A weakening yen helped propel Japan's export-reliant carmakers higher. As the dollar rose another 0.3 percent against the yen, to 88.14 yen, shares in Mazda Motor Corp. soared 10.2 percent. Honda Motor Co. gained 2.5 percent.
Hong Kong-listed Aluminum Corp. of China surged 6.5 percent a day after U.S. aluminum giant Alcoa forecast demand would grow 7 percent in 2013, up from a 6 percent gain in 2012.
Benchmark crude oil contract for February delivery was up $1.27 to $94.37 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 5 cents to close at $93.10 per barrel on the Nymex on Wednesday.
In currencies, the euro rose to $1.3101 from $1.3053.
Pamela Sampson in Bangkok contributed to this report.
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