Indian and Australian shares led Asian stock markets higher on Wednesday, while oil and gold came under pressure as the dollar held firm thanks to optimism about the U.S. economy.

Leading European stock market indexes were expected to open slightly higher, extending a sharp two-day winning run, according to financial spreadbetters, while U.S. equity stock futures were 0.4 percent higher.

The market atmosphere is not bad at all, but volume is pretty thin as the end of the year approaches, said Lee Sun-yeb, a market analyst at Shinhan Investment Corporation in Seoul, referring to the South Korean market's <.KS11> rise on hopes for a U.S. economic recovery.

The MSCI index of Asia Pacific stocks traded outside Japan <.MIAPJ0000PUS> rose 0.8 percent.

India's 30-share BSE Index <.BSESN> jumped more than 2.5 percent to a one-week high and Australia's benchmark S&P/ASX 200 stock index <.AXJO> rose 0.8 percent to a three-week closing high, both led by banks.

Tokyo's stock market was closed for the Emperor's birthday holiday, dampening activity in Asia..

Shares in China Pacific Insurance <2601.HK>, the country's third-largest life insurer, dipped in the early hours of their trading debut and traded 0.9 percent higher by 2:57 a.m. EST, drawing some investor attention in an otherwise lackluster market.

The share sale raised $3.1 billion and was the world's seventh-largest this year.


U.S. crude oil for February delivery edged up 6 cents to $74.46 a barrel in thin trade, after rising 68 cents on Tuesday on industry data showing a sharp draw down in U.S. crude stocks, but the upside potential was capped by the firm dollar.

The dollar was holding at 91.70 yen after notching a two-month high of 91.86 yen and remained firm elsewhere, although traders grew wary of increasing dollar sales by Japanese exporters at 92.00 yen.

Gold prices edged higher on bargain hunting after the price dropped to its weakest in seven weeks the previous day, but the firmer dollar capped the upside potential.

This correlation with the U.S. dollar seems to be one of the most important factors right now, said Wong Eng Soon, an investment analyst at Phillip Futures in Singapore.

Spot gold was quoted at $1,086.20 an ounce at 2:39 a.m. EST, bouncing after falling to as low as $1,074.10 in New York overnight, which was its lowest level since early November.

(Editing by Jan Dahinten)