European shares, the euro and commodities edged higher on Thursday as sentiment improved across riskier asset markets but concerns over the political stalemate in Italy limited gains.
Investors are nervous over whether the political gridlock that emerged from the Italian elections could hurt euro zone growth, and if support from the European Central Bank for a nation in trouble can be used if there's no workable government.
A raft of euro zone officials are due to make public speeches during the day which will be closely watched, while limited data on euro area inflation for January and the latest German unemployment data for February are unlikely to have much impact.
"I can't see any game changing growth numbers, I can't see a policy response to the Italian elections from the ECB, and I can't see any imminent headlines from Italy that will suggest some progress," said Jack Kelly, Investment Director, Global Government Bonds at Standard Life Investments.
Meanwhile markets were supported by reassuring comments from U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke on continued monetary easing, and Wednesday's smooth debt sale by Italy.
The MSCI's world equity index .MIWD00000PUS rose 0.5 percent after a strong session on Wall Street and big gains in Hong Kong and Tokyo earlier in the day as the Fed's commitment to existing stimulus measures soothed the concerns over Italy.
Europe's broad FTSE Eurofirst 300 index .FTEU3 opened up about 0.5 percent, while London's FTSE 100 .FTSE, Paris's CAC-40 .FCHI and Frankfurt's DAX .GDAXI were similarly around 0.5 percent higher. .L .EU
A 0.1 percent rise in U.S. stock futures also hinted at a firm Wall Street start. .N
The recovery in equity markets weighed on demand for safe haven investments like German government bonds, sending Bund futures down around 13 ticks.
In the currency markets the yen was slightly weaker after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe nominated Asian Development Bank President Haruhiko Kuroda, a strong supporter of easier monetary policy, to be the next Bank of Japan governor.
The euro was little changed at around $1.3137, having recovered much of the sharp losses made after the inconclusive Italian elections, which had taken the currency down to an eight-week low of $1.3018 on Tuesday.
Commodities were also generally firmer with U.S. crude up 0.25 percent to $92.54 a barrel while Brent was barely changed at $111.89. <O/R>
Gold managed a slight rise to be around $1,600 an ounce but was headed for its longest stretch of monthly declines in more than 16 years as an improving economic outlook dimmed its safe-haven appeal. <GOL/>