Global shares gain as European Central Bank meeting in focus

SEOUL, South Korea — Global stock markets were higher Thursday, buoyed by strong U.S. corporate earnings and upbeat data from Asia. Investors were looking ahead to a European Central Bank policy decision later in the day. Thursday for clues about the outlook for its monetary stimulus.

KEEPING SCORE: Britain's FTSE 100 advanced 0.5 percent in early trading to 7,466.62 and France's CAC 40 rose 0.6 percent to 5,244.58. Germany's DAX gained 0.7 percent to 12,540.90. Futures indicated that Wall Street would have a slow start a day after benchmarks touched new record highs. Both S&P futures and Dow futures were up less than 0.1 percent.

ASIA'S DAY: Japan's Nikkei 225 advanced 0.6 percent to 20,144.59 and South Korea's Kospi gained 0.5 percent to 2,441.84. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index rose 0.3 percent to 26,740.21 while the Shanghai Composite Index was up 0.4 percent to 3,244.86. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.5 percent to 5,761.50. Stocks in Southeast Asia were mixed.

CENTRAL BANKS: Japan's central bank opted to keep its monetary stimulus intact while downgrading its outlook for inflation. The Bank of Japan's policy meeting ended Thursday with no change to its injections of trillions of yen (hundreds of billions of dollars) into the economy each year through government bond purchases. Analysts also expected the European Central Bank to keep its policy rate unchanged later in the day and give more hints on the euro zone's inflation outlook.

ANALYST'S TAKE: "There has been a lot of speculation about a more explicit phasing out (of monetary stimulus) but I think the ECB wants to be more careful given the fragile nature of the recovery," said Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at OANDA.

JAPAN TRADE: Upbeat economic growth and forecasts for China and the rest of the region, followed by news that Japan's exports rose nearly 10 percent in June from a year earlier also brightened sentiment. A recovery in demand from China is helping sustain growth across the region.

OIL: Benchmark U.S. crude lost 7 cents to $47.25 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract finished at $47.32 a barrel on Wednesday, up 72 cents, or 1.6 percent. Brent crude, the standard for international oil prices, dipped 3 cents to $49.67 per barrel in London. It gained 86 cents, or 1.7 percent, to close at $49.70 per barrel in the previous session.

CURRENCIES: The dollar strengthened to 112.35 yen from 111.89 yen. The euro slipped to $1.1500 from $1.1515.

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