Global stocks rose on Wednesday on optimism about a strong outlook for corporate earnings, while expectations for higher interest rates in the UK lifted sterling and the euro gained against the dollar on sovereign demand.

The MSCI world equity index <.MIWD00000PUS> was up 0.3 percent at 344.08, edging close to a high hit earlier this month of 344.64 which marked its strongest since August 2008.

European stocks <.FTEU3> were up 0.5 percent, extending a rally into a fourth straight session after shares closed at a fresh 29-month high on Tuesday, with beverage firms gaining after Heineken beat market forecasts for 2010 earnings.

There is a growing confidence in the outlook for the global economy. The recovery looks like it is being transformed into a sustainable expansion and that does mean that the outlook for earnings is very positive, said Mike Lenhoff, chief strategist at Brewin Dolphin.

The gains followed an earlier jump in Japan's Nikkei average <.N225> to a nine-month high, helped by a weaker yen and buying by foreign investors.

Focus in foreign exchange markets was on sterling after a jump in British inflation prompted Bank of England Governor Mervyn King to acknowledge that interest rates might rise more rapidly than economists had expected.

Sterling was up 0.2 percent against the dollar at $1.6150 and hovered near a five-and-a-half month high against a currency basket on anticipation the Bank of England will offer a hawkish outlook on UK interest rates later on Wednesday.

UK consumer price inflation surged to a two-year high of 4.0 percent from 3.7 percent in December, providing an awkward backdrop for the central bank's updated quarterly growth and inflation forecasts on Wednesday.

The euro was up 0.5 percent against the dollar at $1.3552, lifted by Asian central bank buying.

The dollar <.DXY> was down 0.4 percent against a basket of major currencies at 78.268.


U.S. oil prices recovered to nearly $85 a barrel, trading up 43 cents at $84.75, lifted by an unexpected fall in weekly crude stocks, while London Brent rose past $102, underpinned by continuing protests in the Middle East.

Traders will scour the Energy Information Administration's (EIA) report, to be unveiled later, for confirmation of the decline in U.S. weekly crude inventories seen in Tuesday's data from the American Petroleum Institute (API).

Gold prices were up 0.3 percent on the day at $1,377.11, close to a four-week high and helped by a decline in the dollar versus the euro, with the market underpinned by concerns inflation may be set to rise in the medium term.

The March Bund future was 7 ticks higher at 122.75, while German government bond yields were steady ahead of a 10-year debt auction.

Portugal's one-year borrowing costs are expected to jump in the T-bill auction on Wednesday on renewed concerns the debt-laden country may need a bailout, but the yield should stay below record levels seen in December.

The auctions are perhaps getting a little bit more attention than they warrant as there haven't been any problems for a while, said IDEA Global bond strategist Everett Brown.

Ironically the worst auctions recently have been in Germany.

Emerging stocks <.MSCIEF> were up 0.1 percent.

(Additional reporting by Harpreet Bhal, Kirsten Donovan and Anirban Nag; Editing by Toby Chopra)