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European Stocks Rise Ahead of Fed Minutes

LONDON (The Deal) -- European markets opened higher Wednesday following Wall Street and much of Asia overnight despite continued apprehension over events in Ukraine and disappointing monthly trade figures for Germany and the U.K.

The focus now is on the start of the new earnings season, and hopes that aluminum giant Alcoa's (AA - Get Report) stronger-than-expected performance Tuesday will presage good things on this side of the Atlantic. There's still some hesitation though, ahead of the publication later Wednesday of the minutes of the U.S. Federal Reserve's monthly meeting.

The motor industry drove the German and French markets upward on Wednesday, with some major indices easing forward gently on Germany's accelerating auto sales, though Japan's Toyota(TM - Get Report)slipped sharply on news it is recalling nearly 7 million vehicles worldwide for a series of faults.

Volkswagen's first-quarter sales for the group were up 5%. Its high-end marques Porsche and Audi were particularly profitable, especially in China, where Audi is especially popular. 

Later in the morning, rival BMW topped VW's news with the release of record March and first-quarter sales figures for its upscale range. The March figure of 212,908 autos alone was up 11.3% on the same month last year and the first time ever that BMW's monthly sales have topped 200,000 vehicles. Meanwhile, over at Daimler, the third wheel of Germany's automotive tricycle, Chief Executive Dieter Zetsche told shareholders his rollout of new models would help the company beat rivals' sales growth and increase profitability this year.  

Must Read: The Deal: European Stocks Slip, Asian Shares Finish Mixed

VW was up 3.19% at 191.10 euros mid-morning while BMW was up a more modest 0.19% at 91.59 euros. Daimler rose 1.06% to 70.64 euros.

The German successes provided some read-across to Paris where tire-maker Michelin rose 1.76% to 91.56 euros and carmaker Renault was up over 2%.

But monthly trade figures for both Germany and the U.K. were slightly disappointing. February  figures for Germany showed imports rising while the surplus fell to a seven-month low -- and it won't be until next month that we see the effects of the Ukraine crisis on Germany's trade with Russia and Eastern Europe. In Britain, exports of goods fell by 1.6% between January and February to 23.5 billion pounds ($39.4 billion). It Imports fell 2.2% to 32.6 billion pounds. That can also be portrayed positively as a narrowing of the trade gap compared with January.

The FTSE 100 was up 0.72% at 6,638, while in Paris the CAC40 was 0.57% higher at 4,450. In Frankfurt, the DAX rose 0.35% to 9,523.65.

In Asia, Japan's Nikkei225  closed down 2.10% at 14,299.69 as disappointment continued at the central bank's decision not to offer new stimulus measures for now. But elsewhere in the region the mood was better. Hong Kong closed up 1.09% at 22,843.17 and the Shanghai Composite was up 0.33% at 2,105.24.

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