MEGA-DEAL $70 BLN
Global stocks remained upbeat on Wednesday as a $70 billion mega-deal in the European oil and gas sector stoked the merger and acquisition fever that has gripped investors this week.
Shares in BG Group rose as much as 42 percent in early trade after Royal Dutch Shell agreed to pay that amount (47 billion pounds) for its smaller rival, making it the biggest deal in the sector in more than a decade.
Germany was the main exception, where shares slipped after data showed that industrial orders surprisingly fell in February.
In early trading Europe's EuroFirst 300 index of leading shares was up 0.3 percent at 1,617 points. This followed Tuesday's 1.6 percent rise, the market's biggest gain since Jan. 23.
Britain's FTSE 100, of which energy shares are a major component, was up 0.6 percent at 7,002 points. Shares in Shell fell more than 2 percent but BP was up more than 4 percent.
"We have been buying the oil majors over the last couple of weeks. There is a bit of weakness in Shell this morning due to the very high premium that Shell is offering, but in the long-term, this does look like creating a business that will be well-positioned within the energy sector," said Dafydd Davies, partner at Charles Hanover Investments.
Elsewhere, Vivendi is looking at a possible acquisition of pay-TV group Sky, three sources familiar with the matter told Reuters, in a deal that could cost the French media conglomerate up to 28 billion pounds.
Following FedEx Corp's 4.4 billion euro ($4.8 billion) bid to buy Dutch package delivery company TNT Express on Tuesday, investors shunned the temptation to cash in on a decent run for Europe's main indexes in recent days.
Earlier in Asia, Japanese stocks rose 0.8 percent to a fresh 15-year high after the Bank of Japan's latest policy meeting. Some investors were disappointed no fresh stimulus was announced, but with inflation near zero expectations are high that more will come at its next meeting.
Hong Kong and Chinese markets both hit seven-year peaks, while MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan gained 1.2 percent to its highest since mid-September.
Futures pointed to a higher open on Wall Street too.
FED MINUTES IN FOCUS
In currency markets the dollar took a breather after rising more than 1 percent on Tuesday, its biggest gain in almost a month.
The euro rose 0.5 percent to $1.0870, sterling was up 0.6 percent at $1.4895 and the dollar slipped a third of one percent against the yen to 119.86 yen.
Markets continue to readjust expectations on the timing of the Federal Reserve's first interest rate rise since June 2006. Last Friday's weak jobs report for March prompted many observers to strike June off as a potential date for "lift-off".
Minutes from the Fed's last policy meeting released later on Wednesday will be scrutinised closely for clues on the timing. Reflecting the uncertainty, Goldman Sachs economists said they are sticking with September but admit December is an increasingly "close call".
The benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury yield was one basis point lower on Wednesday at 1.87 percent, while the comparable German yield was two basis points lower at 0.16 percent after the 0.9 percent fall in German industrial orders in February.
European bond traders will also pay close attention to demand at Germany's two-year, zero percent bond auction later on Wednesday, and headlines from Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras's visit to Russia.
Athens has not asked Moscow for financial aid, a Greek government spokesman said on Wednesday, a day before Greece is due to due to repay a loan tranche of around 450 million euros to the International Monetary Fund.
In commodities, oil pared recent gains after Saudi Arabia reported record production of 10.3 million barrels per day in March, a figure the country's oil minister said was unlikely to fall by much.
U.S. May crude fell 2.5 percent to $52.71 a barrel while Brent shed 1.6 percent to $58.14.
Gold got a boost from the weaker dollar and edged up a couple of bucks to $1,210 an ounce.
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IMF - Output grew by 3.8 percent in 2017, underpinned by a resilient non-hydrocarbon sector, with robust implementation of GCC-funded projects as well as strong activity in the financial, hospitality, and education sectors. The banking system remains stable with large capital buffers. Growth is projected to decelerate over the medium term.
IMF - Higher oil prices and short-term portfolio inflows have provided relief from external and fiscal pressures but the recovery remains challenging. Inflation declined to its lowest level in more than two years. Real GDP expanded by 2 percent in the first quarter of 2018 compared to the first quarter of last year. However, activity in the non-oil non-agricultural sector remains weak as lower purchasing power weighs on consumer demand and as credit risk continues to limit bank lending.