Markets solid after early release of Fed minutes

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LONDON (AP) — Markets remained solid Wednesday as the tone of the minutes for the last policy meeting of the U.S. Federal Reserve were more or less what had been anticipated.

The Fed was forced to release the minutes to the meeting to the March 19-20 meeting hours earlier than planned after apparently inadvertently sending them out to Congressional staffers and lobbyists.

The minutes provided few fresh insights, with policymakers still apparently divided over when to start winding down the central bank's asset purchases.

"Everything still hinges on the performance of the economy," said Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics.

In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was up 0.9 percent at 6,369 while Germany's DAX rose 1.3 percent to 7,737. The CAC-40 in France was 1.5 percent higher at 3,723.

In the U.S., the Dow Jones industrial average was up 0.3 percent at 14,723 while the broader S&P 500 index rose 0.4 percent to 1,576. At this rate, the Dow is headed for another record close.

The minutes also had little impact in other markets and the dollar was more or less trading where it was before the release. The euro was flat at $1.3075 while the dollar rose 0.5 percent to 99.59 yen.

Apart from Japan's Nikkei, which has been buoyant on the back of a new aggressive approach from the Bank of Japan, stock markets around the world have largely languished over the past few days on concerns ranging from the tensions on the Korean peninsula, a new strain of bird flu in China that has killed 9 people and worries over Portugal's public finances.

Airline stocks, particularly in Europe, have been hit by the bird flu concerns but they recouped some losses Wednesday. Air-France KLM SA was leading the advance, trading 5.9 percent higher, while Deutsche Lufthansa AG rose 3.4 percent. IAG PLC, which is the name given to the tie-up between British Airways and Spain's Iberia was up 3.5 percent and Easyjet PLC jumped 5.5 percent.

"Airlines, who have not had the smoothest of flights over the last week thanks to the Asian bird flu concerns, are soaring," said Will Hedden, sales trader at IG.

Earlier, Japan's stock market continued to rise on a wave of enthusiasm for the Bank's aggressive new approach to shaking the world's third-largest economy out of its two-decade slump. The Nikkei 225 index in Tokyo rose 0.7 percent to close at 13,288.13 — its highest close in nearly five years.

Elsewhere, Asian stocks finished mostly higher. Hong Kong's Hang Seng gained 0.8 percent to 22,034.56. South Korea's Kospi advanced 0.7 percent to 1,933.48.

Mainland Chinese stocks were mixed after China released trade data for March. The Shanghai Composite Index rose marginally to 2,226.13. The smaller Shenzhen Composite Index lost 0.5 percent to 921.86.

The price of oil fell below $94 a barrel ahead of the release of supply figures expected to show an increase in crude stockpiles. The benchmark New York rate was 64 cents lower at $93.56 a barrel.

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