Strong data back early share gains in Europe; Chinese investors drive rally in Hong Kong

Energy Associated Press

Shares rose Thursday as a rebound in oil prices boosted energy companies and strong auto data brightened sentiment in Europe. A buying spree by mainland Chinese investors pushed Hong Kong's benchmark sharply higher.

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KEEPING SCORE: Britain's FTSE rose 0.5 percent to 6,970.87, while France's CAC 40 climbed 0.6 percent to 5,166.25. Germany's DAX added 0.4 percent to 12,080.31. Wall Street looked set for a less upbeat start, however, with both S&P futures and Dow futures down 0.3 percent.

HONG KONG: Hong Kong's benchmark closed at its highest level in eight years after mainland Chinese investors bought heavily. The Hang Seng jumped 6.3 percent before losing a large share of those gains to profit-taking. Chinese are shifting investments into Hong Kong, which is seen as a bargain following rallies in mainland Chinese markets that have made shares in Shanghai and Shenzhen relatively expensive.

THE QUOTE: "Money came flooding into Hong Kong's stock market Wednesday, and the market took flight, trading at its highest since 2008 and setting record trading volumes," Stephen Innes, senior trader for OANDA Asia Pacific, said in a commentary.

AUTO RECOVERY: A report Wednesday that auto sales in western Europe rose almost 11 percent in March from the year before boosted prices of automakers. Renault SA gained 1.5 percent and Volkswagen AG was trading 0.8 percent higher.

GLOBAL DEALMAKING: Shares also were boosted by news that oil company Royal Dutch Shell had agreed to buy BG Group for $69.7 billion in cash and stock. A revival of major acquisitions has yielded almost $1 trillion in deals this year, according to data provider Dealogic. The premiums typically paid in such transactions tend to raise share prices.

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ASIA'S DAY: Japan's Nikkei 225 stock index rose 0.8 percent to 19,937.72, tapping fresh 15-year highs as the Japanese yen softened against the U.S. dollar. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index gained 2.7 percent to 26,944.39. South Korea's Kospi was nearly flat at 2,058.87, while Australia's S&P ASX/200 slipped 0.5 percent to 5,932.20. Shares in Southeast Asia were mixed, while China's Shanghai Composite fell 0.9 percent to 3,957.53.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude rose 74 cents to $51.16 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It lost $3.56, or almost 7 percent, to close at $50.42 a barrel in New York on Wednesday after the U.S. Energy Department reported oil in storage was about triple what analysts had estimated. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, gained 98 cents to $57.67 after falling $3.55 overnight to close at $56.69 in London.

CURRENCIES: The euro slipped to $1.0739 versus $1.07797 on Wednesday. The dollar rose to 120.31 yen from its previous close of 120.15.