Europe, Asia Higher

European and Asian stock markets were higher on a strong start on Wall Street

European stock markets were higher on Friday. In London, the Financial Times Stock Exchange 100 gained 34.70 points, or 0.70%, to close at 5006.80. The FTSE reclaimed the 5000 level, Wall Street had a strong start thanks to higher energy groups and a good reading of fourth-quarter GDP. In London, strong earnings results from media companies WPP and United Business Media and a resurgent mining sector provided key support. The mining sector rose on target price upgrades: BHP Billiton (+4.14%) and Rio Tinto (+3.45%). BP (+2.25%) and Shell (+1.24%) also increased on a spike in crude oil futures. WPP (+3.50%) posted a 15% rise in its headline fiscal pretax profits to 546 million pounds, vs. average analyst forecast of 532 million pounds while reported revenue edged up 5% to 4.3 billion pounds. United Business Media (+1.67%) announced a 36.9% rise in fiscal pretax profits to 141.4 million pounds, above analysts expectations, and said parties, including WPP, have shown interest in buying NOP World. AstraZeneca (-1.37%) fell, hit by Goldman cutting its sales forecast for Crestor by 35% and Dresdner KW chopping its target price.

Germany's DAX gained 44.35 points, or 1.03%, to close at 4348.64. The DAX gained ground as U.S. markets rallied on evidence of continued robust growth. Among German stocks on the move today, Deutsche Boerse (+4.0%) paced Dax stocks to their highest level this week, in turn, posting a 52-week high of 57.01 euro before easing on some profit taking. Munich Re (+2.0%) rose after Goldman Sachs upgraded it to outperform from in-line. MAN (+2.34%) gained after an upgrade from Deutsche Bank. Lufthansa (+1.42%) shrugged off the blight of high oil prices, rallying after news it may restart dividend payments some time soon.

In France, the CAC-40 gained 56.90 points, or 1.43%, to close at 4034.57. French stocks closed on a high note, unaffected by Wall Street as both the DJIA and the Nasdaq traded flat. Locally, French unemployment unexpectedly rose in January to 10% from 9.9%, its highest since the year 2000. In the CAC40, however, tech stocks continued to provide support: STM (+1.5%) and Alcatel (+0.9%). Alcatel gained on news Moody's is considering upgrading its credit rating, a move that could be for more than just one notch. Cap Gemini (+2.1%) went from strength to strength, this time on an upbeat note from Exane BNP-P. AXA (+1.9%) remained solid as brokers showed enthusiasm on stock after fiscal 2004 results and fiscal 2005 guidance.

Asian markets were higher on Friday. Japan's Nikkei 225 index rose 127.10 points, or 1.1%, to 11658.25 at the close on Friday, boosted by gains on Wall Street overnight. Furukawa jumped 5.97% after Nihon Keizai business daily reported the firm will begin production of substrates used in next-generation DVD player optical pickups. AOC Holdings soared 8.46% after the company said that it aimed to produce 12,000 barrels/day of crude when it starts production from an oil block in Egypt in 2007. On the down side, Haseko Corp lost 1.78% on concern of firm's widening losses. On the economic front, Japan's core CPI was down 0.3% YoY in January mainly due to lower utility charges.

Tracking the U.S. upside, Hong Kong shares climbed further. At close, the Hang Seng Index won 96.18 points, or 0.7%, to 14,157, with the day's total mainboard turnover rising to $22.4 billion (hong kong). Among 33 blue chips, 27 stocks went up while three down. Top HSI percentage gainer was Yue Yuen (+4.75%), whereas top laggard was Denway Motors (-0.8%). Esprit (+0.9) continued to rise on analysts' upgrades after it posted an exceptionally strong set of interim results with net profit surging 76% year-over-year due to margin gains and a lower tax rate. The fashion retailer spiked 17.6% yesterday.

Canada's benchmark TSX/S&P gained 83.63 points, or 0.87%, to close at 9,741.37.