Europe shares hit new 15-month high, banks support

European shares hit a new 15-month peak in early trading on Wednesday, led higher by financials and miners, with investors waiting for more macro-economic data later in the session for clearer market direction.

At 0811 GMT, the FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares was up 0.4 percent to 1,064.25 points, the highest since October 2008. The index rose 26 percent last year and has surged 65 percent since hitting a record low in early March of 2009.

Banks were among the top gainers, with HSBC, Barclays, Lloyds, Royal Bank of Scotland, Societe Generale and Natixis rising 0.3 to 3.1 percent.

Investors awaited US ADP numbers, due at 1315 GMT, which is expected to show private employers cut only 73,000 in December, less than half the 169,000 positions cut in November. The report is seen as a kind of preview to the government's monthly payroll update, due for release on Friday.

“The US jobs data on Friday will be important, but the feedback you are getting shows that the trend is clearly improving,” said Bernard McAlinden, investment strategist at NCB Stockbrokers in Dublin.

“Expectations for the robustness of growth have improved significantly over the last few weeks,” he said.

Miners got strength from higher metals prices. Anglo American, Antofagasta, Rio Tinto and Xstrata rose 0.1 to 1.1 percent.

But British retailer Marks & Spencer Plc fell 3.4 percent. It posted its first rise in quarterly underlying sales for over two years, but missed analysts' forecasts and joined rivals in warning of an uncertain 2010.

Markets in Finland, Sweden, Austria and Greece will be closed on Wednesday for the Epiphany holiday.

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