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    World shares weathered soft readings on Chinese and Japanese manufacturing on Thursday that merely drove expectations of more policy stimulus there, though lacklustre euro zone data was less well received.

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    * Pan-European FTSEurofirst index falls 0.5 pct. * PMI surveys depress market sentiment. * Ericsson, Bilfinger slump; Michelin surges. By Atul Prakash. European shares gave up early gains on Thursday after a survey showed growth in Germany's private sector slowed and French business activity barely grew in April.

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    * European shares slide after soft PMIs * Euro rebounds after taking hit on PMIs * China HSBC PMI dips to 49.2 in April from 49.6 * German, UK yields fall after Wednesday's sell-off * Wall Street set for subdued start By Marc Jones LONDON, April 23 (Reuters) - World shares weathered soft readings on Chinese and Japanese manufacturing which served to recharge expectations of more policy stimulus there, though lacklustre euro zone data soured the mood on Thursday. European stock markets initially opened higher, spurred by multi-year highs in Asia, but sluggish euro zone and German purchasing manager data and conflicting numbers from France sent indexes into the red. Stock index futures suggested U.S. markets would maintain the negative trend. Overall, euro zone private sector business growth was weaker than forecast, despite help for exporters from a big fall in the euro and the launch in March of a sovereign bond buying programme from the European Central Bank. "Even though there is a clear improvement on the economic front in Europe ... the jury is still out," BNP Paribas Fortis Global Markets' head of research, Philippe Gijsels, said. The euro headed lower against the dollar, though it picked up later while European bond markets steadied, with yields on both UK gilts and German Bunds falling after the bonds led a lively sell-off on Wednesday. The FTSEurofirst 300 equity index fell 0.9 percent. Asian stocks distracted investors from worries about Greece, hitting a 15-year peak in Japan, their highest for seven years in China and Taiwan and for nearly four years in South Korea. MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan stood slightly higher, having earlier reached levels last seen in early 2008. The HSBC China manufacturing PMI hit a one-year trough , but that merely added to speculation that central banks in both countries would keep up stimulus. Japan's Nikkei ended up 0.3 percent, South Korea gained 1.4 percent and Shanghai stocks closed up 0.4 percent, with investors still emboldened by a commentary in state media saying the bull market "has just begun". "Investors only care about the attitude of the government, which has so far appeared tolerant (of the rise in markets)," said Du Changchun, analyst at Northeast Securities in Shanghai. DOLLAR RESILIENT With U.S PMIs and another batch of company earnings due later, early futures prices pointed to a subdued start for Wall Street after the previous session's 0.4-0.5 percent gains for the main U.S. markets. The dollar was on the rise again and sterling, which had jumped with UK gilt yields on Wednesday after minutes of the Bank of England's last policy meeting, was last down 0.3 percent at $1.4995. The New Zealand dollar shed 1.5 percent to $0.7663 after a central banker said rate cuts could be considered if domestic demand and inflationary pressures were to weaken. The euro fell as low as $1.0665 before rebounding to $1.0737, up 0.1 percent on the day. Traders remain sensitive to worries about Greece, but clear signals on that front are unlikely before Monday's Eurogroup meeting. "The U.S. data this afternoon and durable goods tomorrow may provide some more volatility ahead of the Fed meeting next week," said Piotr Pazio, a strategist with Rabobank in London. Against the yen, the dollar was firm around 120.06 and on track for its fourth straight session of gains. Spot gold nudged up to $1,189 an ounce after its sharpest single-session loss since March 6 on Wednesday. Oil prices were a fraction softer with Brent quoted at $62.71 a barrel, while U.S. crude dipped 20 cents to $55.96. (Additional reporting by Atul Prakash, Patrick Graham and Nigel Stephenson; editing by John Stonestreet/Ruth Pitchford)

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    * New Zealand dollar hammered by hint at lower rates. * U.S. dollar broadly higher, seeking trigger for new rally. By Patrick Graham. The New Zealand dollar was by far the biggest mover on major currency markets on Thursday, sinking 1.5 percent after a senior central banker pointed to the need for lower, not higher, interest rates.

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    Japanese government bonds fell on Thursday, pressured by an overnight selloff in U.S. Treasuries after a sharp rise in the yields on German Bunds. An auction of 40-year Japanese government bonds produced a highest accepted yield of 1.470 percent, with 33.2167 percent of the bids accepted at that yield, the Ministry of Finance said.

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    European shares rose towards 14-year highs on Thursday, with French tyre maker Michelin leading the automobile and auto parts sector higher after announcing its first-quarter results. Shares in Michelin rose 4.7 percent, the top gainer in the pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index, after its first-quarter revenue rose 5.6 percent, boosted by a weaker euro.

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    German bond yields steadied on Thursday as investors wait to see if a closely watched business survey will provide signs of economic recovery across the bloc. Easing fears of an imminent default in Greece have seen investors return to riskier but higher-yielding bonds in recent days, partly reversing the seemingly unstoppable fall in safehaven German bond yields towards zero.

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    Japan's Nikkei becnhmark stock index closed 0.3. percent higher, having touched a 15-year intra-day high in morning trade, as investors bought large-cap and securities shares seen as undervalued and presenting strong earnings prospects.

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    Britain's FTSE 100 index is seen opening flat on Thursday, according to financial bookmakers. * The UK blue chip index closed 0.5 percent lower at 7,028.24 points on Wednesday.

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    LONDON, April 23 (Reuters) - Financial spreadbetters predicted Britain's FTSE 100 to open flat, Germany's DAX to gain around 41 points, or as much as 0.35 percent, and France's CAC 40 to rise about 8 points, or as much as 0.15 percent, on Thursday. EUROPEAN COMPANIES REPORTING: Q1 2015 Anglo American PLC Production Report Q1 2015 WPP PLC Trading Statement Release Q1 2015 Pace PLC Interim Management Statement Release Computacenter PLC Interim Management Statement Release Meggitt PLC Trading Statement Release Cobham PLC Interim Management Statement Release Q1 2015 William Hill PLC Trading Statement Release Q1 2015 Acacia Mining PLC Earnings Release Q1 2015 Bankinter SA Earnings Release Q1 2015 Dassault Systemes SA Earnings Release Q1 2015 Metso Oyj Earnings Call Q1 2015 Technicolor SA Corporate Sales Release Repsol SA Sustainability Day - London Q1 2015 Amadeus Fire AG Earnings Release Q1 2015 Gruppo Editoriale l'Espresso SpA Earnings Release U.S. COMPANIES REPORTING : Q1 2015 Amazon.com Inc

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    * Dollar broadly firm, US housing data beats expectations. * BOE minutes less dovish than expected, wrong footing markets. * Swiss franc under renewed pressure. By Hideyuki Sano and Ian Chua. The U.S. dollar held firm on Thursday after strong U.S. housing data helped to lift U.S. bond yields while the New Zealand dollar fell more than one percent following dovish central bank comments.

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    Here are some factors that may affect Middle East stock markets on Thursday. INTERNATIONAL/REGIONAL. * GLOBAL MARKETS-Asia weathers soft China survey on stimulus hopes. * Oil prices extend gains as Yemen bombing continues. * PRECIOUS-Strong U.S. housing data keeps gold below $1,200. * MIDEAST STOCKS-Middle East markets edge up as Yemen air strikes end.

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    Hong Kong stocks made fresh gains Thursday morning, shrugging off weak Chinese manufacturing data from HSBC. The Hang Seng Index advanced 0.9%, extending its opening advance and heading toward a third day of wins, with the mainland-China-tracking H-share index up 0.8%. Shortly after Hong Kong markets opened, preliminary April data from HSBC showed China's manufacturing fell to a one-year low, with the "flash" Purchasing Managers Index dropping to 49.2, down from a final read of...

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    * Securities firms Nomura and Daiwa rally * NTT Docomo (DCM) hits 11-year high By Thomas Wilson TOKYO, Apr 23(Reuters) - Japanese stocks rose on Thursday as investors sought to pick up stock seen as undervalued and presenting positive earnings prospects, with the likes of Nomura Holdings and large cap Japan Tobacco (JAPAF) surging on strong demand. The Nikkei benchmark climbed 0.3 percent to 20,190.22 after opening at a fresh 15-year high of 20,252.12. "Investors are expecting big gains from securities firms ahead of earnings season," said Makoto Kikuchi, chief executive of Myojo Asset Management. "They look good value." Nomura Holdings (NMR) rose 4.2 percent to their highest in a year, and has jumped over 10 percent since Wednesday. Daiwa Securities Group (DSECF) climbed 2.9 percent. Large-cap Japan Tobacco Inc (JAPAF) was Tokyo's biggest gainer, climbing 4.8 percent. The cigarette maker is the Nikkei's sixth largest firm by market capitalisation. Elsewhere, NTT Docomo Inc (DCM) rose 2.8 percent to hit an 11-year high. The Tokyo Stock Exchange's securities brokerage subindex rose 3.4 percent to its highest since January last year. Investors have snapped up banking, other financial shares and insurers this week, saying they look comparatively cheap. "The banks' underperformance in the last couple of years, has left them egregiously undervalued," said Stefan Worrall, director of cash equity sales at Credit Suisse, adding that strong earnings announcements by U.S. banks may have drawn attention to the Japanese banks. Big-name exporters Panasonic Corp (PCRFF) and Nissan Motor Co Ltd were up 2.3 and 1.2 percent respectively, boosted by the weaker yen. The Japanese currency fell through the 120 mark against the dollar for the first time in nine days. The positive mood offset a private survey on Thursday showing China's factory activity contracted at its fastest pace in a year in April. Japanese stocks have risen 15.8 percent this year, driven up by expectations of higher shareholder returns and an influx of money by public pension funds. The broader Topix climbed 0.4 percent, touching a fresh 7-1/2 year high of 1,633.81, while the JPX-Nikkei Index 400 also rose 0.5 percent to hit a record high of 14,825.53. (Reporting by Thomas Wilson; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

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    * Japan shares make another 15-year top amid bullish sentiment. * China HSBC PMI dips to 49.2 in April from 49.6. * Spike in UK yields spreads to sovereign debt globally. * Sterling major gainer, NZ$ slides on dovish RBNZ comments. By Wayne Cole.

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    Japanese stocks went from strength to strength early Thursday, with the Nikkei Average up another 0.4% after a 1.1% advance the previous day. The broader Topix rose 0.5%. Sony Corp. was in focus after it again raised its profit and revenue forecasts for the fiscal year ended in March, helping send its shares up 2.1%.

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    * Sterling holds above $1.0500 after broad rally. * BOE minutes less dovish than expected, wrong footing markets. * Swiss franc under renewed pressure. By Ian Chua. Sterling stood at its highest in over a month early on Thursday, having outperformed its peers after the latest set of policy minutes from the Bank of England was less dovish than expected.

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    The drop in oil prices has helped plenty of consumers, but it's hurt Canada, an economy that's heavily dependent on oil production. Investments in Western Canada are declining by as much as one-third, said Tim McMillan, CEO of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

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    By Joseph Adinolfi, MarketWatch, Hiroyuki Kachi. The Swiss franc weakened against the euro and U.S. dollar Wednesday after the Swiss National Bank said it would eliminate exemptions from its policy of negative interest rates for certain public accounts, including the central bank's pension fund. One euro was worth 1.0409 francs in recent trade, or up 1.5%, compared with 1.0257 francs Tuesday afternoon.

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    * TSX ends down 41.67 points, or 0.27 percent, at 15,304.77. * Six of the index's 10 main sectors decline. * Materials fall 2.1 percent, financials slip 0.3 percent. By Solarina Ho. Canada's main stock index slipped on Wednesday, driven by steep declines among gold miners and a retreat among heavily-weighted banks.