MILAN (AP) — Strong eurozone unemployment data combined with better-than-expected U.S. jobs and economy figures to give a modest boost to stock markets on Wednesday.
Eurostat figures showed the number of unemployed across the 17 European Union nations fell for the first time since April 2011, providing further hope that the region's economy could soon start showing signs of recovery.
Meanwhile, the U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of 1.7 percent in the second quarter, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. Economists had expected growth of 1 percent for the period. Also Wednesday, a private survey from payroll company ADP showed that U.S. businesses created 200,000 jobs this month.
As welcome as the figures were, markets were also focused on news from the Fed's Open Market Committee meeting. The U.S. central bank will release an updated policy statement after concluding the two-day meeting.
The Fed is not expected to announce any big changes, but investors expect that an improving U.S. economy will prompt the Fed Reserve to ease back on its huge bond-buying program in coming months.
The Fed is buying $85 billion in Treasury and mortgage bonds every month to spur growth and lending. Recent hints that the Fed might start scaling back its stimulus program have sent stocks reeling.
Analysts from Capital Economics said in a note Wednesday that the latest round of U.S. economic figures suggest "that the recovery is gaining momentum and probably strengthening the Fed's resolve to taper its asset purchases in September."
Britain's FTSE 100 rose 0.76 percent to close Wednesday at 6,649. Germany's DAX was up 0.1 percent at 8,275 while France's CAC-40 was up 0.4 percent to 4,003.
Wall Street welcomed the upbeat economic news, with the Dow Jones industrial index up 0.23 percent to 15,525 and the broader S&P 500 rising 0.33 percent to 1,691.
Investors are also focusing on U.S. employment figures for July, due out Friday. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has said that the central bank could begin to scale back its bond purchases later this year if the economy strengthens, but Fed officials typically put greater weight on employment and inflation data than the GDP figures.
Japan's Nikkei 225 index tumbled 1.5 percent to close at 13,668.32. The Tokyo benchmark closed down 3.3 percent on Monday and then recovered about halfway Tuesday.
Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 0.3 percent to 21,883.66. South Korea's Kospi dropped 0.2 percent to 1,914.03.
Benchmarks in mainland China rose while Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand and Taiwan fell.
Benchmark crude for August delivery was up $1.13 to $104.20 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell $1.47 to close at $103.08 on the Nymex on Tuesday.
In currencies, the euro was 0.25 percent to $1.3292 from $1.3259 late Tuesday. The dollar rose to 98.27 yen from 98.06 yen.
Pamela Sampson in Bangkok contributed.