LONDON- European shares were on track for their best week since late April on Wednesday, gaining almost 1 per cent on forecast-beating growth data, rising metals prices and a weakening euro.

U.S. stocks were also set to open some 0.2 percnt higher, index futures suggested.

Metals markets were buoyant, with the price of zinc, used to galvanise steel, hitting its highest in a decade on Chinese infrastructure demand and boosting mining company shares.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index rose 0.8 per cent, led by basic resources companies and energy firms, building further on Monday's 1.1 per cent rise as European equities recovered from their worst week this year triggered by a nuclear standoff between the United States and North Korea

However, with tensions over the Korean peninsula waning, helping lift Asian shares in the past two days, investors have re-focused on fundamentals.

Data on Wednesday showed the euro zone economy expanded by more than previously forecast in the second quarter, compared with the same period last year, while annual growth in Italy was at its fastest since 2011.

Stronger economic growth is part of the reason global active funds remain overwhelmingly positive on European equities, the biggest consensus overweight position according to Barclays’ analysis of investor flows.

"The market mindset is that Europe is recovering from a very deep, very long recession that hit at its financial core," said Christopher Peel, chief investment officer at Tavistock Wealth.

The fall in the euro against the dollar would also be a boon to European companies, making their exports cheaper and potentially lifting earnings.

BlackRock, the world's biggest asset manager, warned in a note earlier this week that a stronger euro could slow the pace of earnings growth, adding that the ratio of earnings estimates upgrades to downgrades in Europe had fallen to a one-year low.

The euro is the best performing major currency versus the dollar this year - up 11.5 percent so far. However, it took a hit on Wednesday after a Reuters report that European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi would not use next week's annual gathering of central bankers in Jackson Hoel, Wyoming, to signal policy changes.

The report, citing two sources familiar with the situation, dashed expectations that Draghi would begin to chart a course out of the ECB's massive stimulus programme.

The euro fell as low as $1.1691 and was last down 0.3 per cent on the day at $1.1703, some 2 per cent below a 2 1/2-year peak of $1.1911 touched earlier this month.

The dollar rose 0.1 per cent against a basket of currencies, holding most of Tuesday's gains chalked up on the biggest rise in U.S. retail sales in seven months.

The yen, which rose as tension over the Korean peninsula intensified last week, fell 0.1 percent to 110.78 per dollar.

Sterling rose almost half a cent after data showed UK wages rising faster than expected in the three months to June before giving up most of those gains. It last traded flat on the day at $1.2867.

The strong U.S. retail sales data slightly boosted expectations that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates for a third time this year.

The Fed releases the minutes of its July policy meeting at 1800 GMT and they will be pored over for clues as to how the debate over the policy outlook is developing.

The Fed kept interest rates unchanged last month and said it expected to start winding down "relatively soon" its massive holdings of bonds, bought in an effort to boost the economy.

"Most people are looking for a final hint that the Fed will start the balance sheet normalisation process next month, and perhaps give us some clue about the next rate hike as well," said ING strategist Martin van Vliet.


Zinc rose 2.5 per cent to as high as US$3,037 a tonne, its highest since late 2007. Copper rose 1.3 per cent to US$6,464 a tonne.

"There (was) a fair level of scepticism at the start of the year when China's infrastructure projects were announced but we're seeing much better-than-expected growth in fixed asset investment," said analyst Daniel Hynes of ANZ in Sydney.

Gold fell before the Fed minutes. It last stood at $1,270 an ounce, down less than 0.1 per cent.

Brent crude oil rose 18 cents to US$50.98 a barrel on a reduction in U.S. stockpiles.