European stocks posted firm early gains, with markets in France hitting their highest levels since the global financial crisis, as investors focused on a host of key earnings reports from some of the region's biggest companies.
The Stoxx Europe 600 index, the broadest measure of share prices, gained 0.27% to trade at 390.52 points, close to a two-year high. France's CAC-40 was the standout early gainer of the region's benchmarks, rising 0.64% to 5,327.13 points, the highest since January 2008.
A weaker pound, which fell 0.44% against the U.S. dollar from yesterday's close to 1.2873, and stronger-than-expected earnings from Royal Dutch Shell plc (RDS.A - Get Report) and HSBC plc (HSBC) , added 0.46% to trade at 7,259.91 points while Germany's DAX performance index gained 0.42% to trade at a year-to-date high of 12,580.8 points.
Adidas AG (ADDYY) were a notable early mover, rising 3% to €187.53 each after the sportswear group posted first quarter earnings of €455 million ($494 million) and confirmed its full-year outlook as online sales and a revitalised Reebok brand put further pressure on U.S. rival Nike Inc. (NKE - Get Report)
HSBC Plc (HSBC) shares were also in focus, rising 3% to 664 pence each after it posted stronger-than-expected first quarter earnings of $4.96 billion and boosted a core measure of its balance sheet strength.
Europe's moves, however, contrast a muted session overnight in Asia where trading was again limited by regional holidays. However, currency markets were again in focus following a hawkish statement from U.S. Federal Reserve that increased bets on a June rate hike.
With the Fed statement out of the way and the chance of a June hike now past 70%, investors will shift their focus to Friday's April non-farm payroll report
Global oil markets continued to trade with a downward bias this week, with WTI futures falling 1% overnight and into the European session to trade at $44.35 after the U.S. Energy Information Administration published a smaller-than-expected 930,000-barrel drawdown in domestic crude inventories in the week ending April 28 and still sit at a near record 527.8 million.
Early indications from U.S. equity futures point to a modestly positive open for Wall Street, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average poised for a 15 point gain, and the S&P 500 set to rise by 1.75 points. The tech-heavy Nasdaq is priced to open little-changed from its Wednesday close of 6,072.55 points.