European equities climb on Christmas cheer from Germany

Europe's main stock markets rose on Tuesday, buoyed by rebounding investor confidence in eurozone powerhouse Germany, while the banking sector was also in focus after HSBC agreed to pay a record fine.

In midday deals, London's FTSE 100 advanced 0.24 percent to 5,935.62 points, Frankfurt's DAX 30 gained 0.57 percent to 7,573.41 points and the Paris CAC 40 won 0.67 percent to 3,635.77.

Milan's FTSE Mib benchmark meanwhile rebounded by 0.96 percent to 15,501.07 points, one day after slumping 2.22 percent after Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti announced his intention to resign.

Madrid's IBEX 35 increased 0.68 percent to 3,636.64 points, clawing back the previous day's losses.

In foreign exchange trading, the European single currency climbed to $1.2968, down from $1.2939 late in New York on Monday. Gold prices eased to $1,710.30 an ounce on the London Bullion Market, from $1,712.50.

German investor sentiment topped a seven-month high this month on hopes Europe's top economy will dodge recession, data showed on Tuesday.

The widely watched investor confidence index calculated by the ZEW economic institute soared to 6.9 points in December from minus 15.7 points in November.

That was the highest reading since May and also the first time since then the index has been in positive territory, the institute said.

"It is an early unexpected Christmas present for markets," said ETX Capital trader Ishaq Siddiqi in reference to the upbeat data.

"After a run of poor German data and growth forecast downgrades by Bundesbank and European Central Bank, the ZEW today shows business confidence is regaining ground.

"German businesses clearly feel the worse of the euro zone crisis is over, with recovery hopes now in place for next year."

"Financial market experts are looking to next year with a bit of pre-Christmas optimism," said ZEW chief Wolfgang Franz.

"The economic slowdown we have seen over the past months will also stretch into 2013. But as things currently stand, Germany will be spared a recession."

The banking sector meanwhile shifted into focus after HSBC said it would pay US authorities a record $1.92 billion to settle allegations of money laundering.

HSBC, which is listed in Hong Kong and London, said in a statement that it would pay the equivalent of 1.48 billion euros or £1.2 billion as part of an agrement with several US authorities including the US Department of Justice.

The bank admitted to having "inadequate" controls in place, accepted responsibility for the group's past mistakes and added that it would finalise a deal soon with Britain's Financial Services Authority watchdog.

The global giant was thrown into crisis earlier this year when a US Senate report found it had allowed affiliates in Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh to move billions of dollars in suspect funds into the US without adequate controls.

US lawmakers accused the company of giving Iran, terrorists and drug dealers access to the country's financial system.

In reaction to the fine, HSBC's share price added 0.48 percent to 644.28 pence in London midday deals. The group's Hong Kong-listed shares rose 0.31 percent to end at HK$79.70.

"HSBC is anxious to draw a line under the affair. Emphasising a transformation at the bank over the last two years, the bank has agreed to pay a record fine," said analyst Keith Bowman at Hargreaves Lansdown Stockbrokers.

"Positively for shareholders, the fine has already been largely accounted for, with the figure seen as more than bearable given the bank's size and strength."

The bank had already set aside $1.5 billion for fines linked to money-laundering in the United States.

In Paris, shares in international utilities group Suez Environnement surged by 7.1 percent to 8.92 euros after brokers Exane BNP Paribas issued a strong recommendation.

Asian markets traded mixed after a positive lead from Wall Street, with traders hopeful for a deal in the United States to avert the fiscal cliff.

Hong Kong ended 0.21 percent higher, Tokyo ended flat, Sydney gained 0.4 percent, while Seoul won 0.37 percent.

Markets have mostly shrugged off fresh turmoil in the eurozone this week, after Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti said he would resign and Silvio Berlusconi threatened a comeback on an anti-austerity platform.

Investors were also cautious on ahead of a US Federal Reserve meeting that begins later on Tuesday, with expectations it will announce more monetary easing when it concludes on Wednesday.

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