European share indexes ticked higher early on Wednesday, helped by the hotel sector, but investors were awaiting fresh direction ahead of two rate decisions later in the week and with U.S. markets closed for the Independence Day holiday.

At 0810 GMT the FTSEurofirst 300 index was up 0.25 percent at 1,617.24 points, its highest level in two weeks.

Shares in French hotel group Accor jumped 7.5 percent, while Intercontinental Hotel and Whitbread gained 5.3 percent after private equity group Blackstone agreed to buy U.S. group Hilton Hotels for about $26 billion.

Among other early gainers, Volkswagen rose 1.1 percent after posting a 15 percent rise in VW brand sales in the United States in June and Deutsche Telekom rose 0.8 percent after a German newspaper report said it has clinched a deal to bring Apple's iPhone to Germany. Shares in bigger rival Vodafone were down 0.7 percent. Vodafone has been viewed by analysts as the likeliest partner for Apple in Europe.

DaimlerChrysler slipped 0.6 percent after its U.S. sales of Mercedes-Benz cars and light truck fell.

Analysts said that with few catalysts around, summer was likely to prove a quiet period for European shares.

The overall picture is one of consolidation and we're probably in for a boring summer with shares moving in a 3-5 percent range, said Philippe Gijsels, strategist at Fortis Bank in Brussels.

Stocks tend to record 70 percent of their annual gains in the October to May period, and tend to bottom out end-September or beginning-October, he said.

But we continue to be positive, with most of the elements still in place -- valuations, earnings growth, and mergers and acquisitions, with interest rates not at the level where we have historically had trouble with them.

With the diary thin for both company announcements and macroeconomic data, investors trained their sights on two rate decisions due on Thursday, from the European Central Bank (ECB) and the Bank of England.


All 93 analysts in a Reuters poll expected the ECB to hold rates at 4 percent, while 56 of 70 economists predicted a UK rate rise by a quarter percentage point to 5.75 percent.

Sterling hit a 26-year high against the dollar on Wednesday, helped by the expectations of a rate increase.

European shares have risen 9 percent so far this year, easily outpacing their 3-percent gains in the first half of 2006, and are more than half way to matching last year's full-year 16-percent gain.

Stocks have been driven by a combination of broadly strong company earnings and a rash of merger and acquisitions fuelled by cheap borrowing.

On Wednesday, shares in German financial advisor MLP rose 5 percent on market talk that it might be acquired by French insurer AXA, though a financial source said such speculation was unfounded.

MLP declined to comment.

Across Europe, Germany's DAX and France's CAC 40 were both up 0.3 percent, while Britain's FTSE 100 benchmark gained 0.2 percent.