Europe markets edge up after positive China data

London (AFP) - European shares closed mostly higher on Wednesday encouraged by brighter Chinese economic data and a modest recovery in oil prices, but a downturn on Wall Street capped earlier gains.

London and Paris were both higher, closing 0.5 percent and 0.3 percent up respectively, having fallen back from earlier highs on the back of upbeat figures from China providing some respite from a volatile start to 2016.

Frankfurt was led slightly lower by weak auto stocks.

"European equities are mixed in late-day action, with strength in oil and gas issues on an initial rebound in crude oil prices fading and the euro turning modestly higher versus the US dollar," analysts Charles Schwab said in a note to investors.

US stocks opened higher eyeing a third straight gain as General Motors bolstered sentiment with an improved 2016 earnings forecast and a dividend hike, but the Dow Jones Industrial Average later slipped.

It was down 0.3 percent at around 1645 GMT.

In foreign exchange activity, the European single currency retreated to $1.0849.

Oil prices saw a slight rebound after collapsing below $30 a barrel on Tuesday for the first time in 12 years on global crude oversupply.

After more than a week of sharp equity losses fuelled by worries over China's economy, news that the country's exports had picked up in December provided some incentive to buy.

"Stocks initially gained ground on higher oil prices, continued stability in the Chinese yuan, and a relatively favourable China trade report," the Charles Schwab note said.

The rise in Chinese overseas shipments, from a fall in November, indicated authorities' weakening of the yuan currency against the dollar was beginning to filter through.

The figures came against a backdrop of contracting global trade last year, meaning China's export performance was relatively strong.

However Sheraz Mian, of Zacks, sounded a note of caution despite the upbeat China trade data.

"Today's data notwithstanding, China's status as a source of market uncertainty isn't going away anytime soon.

"The country's manufacturing and trade sectors have clearly lost momentum, which has been weighing on overall GDP growth data," he said.

While the positive news sent Shanghai stocks higher initially, they ended Wednesday 2.4 percent in the red again having already slumped almost 15 percent this year.

However, Hong Kong ended up 1.1 percent and Sydney, where several firms with strong trade links with China are listed, closed 1.3 percent higher.

And Tokyo finally ended on a positive note after dropping for six straight sessions, gaining 2.9 percent.

Global markets including oil prices have been in free-fall since the beginning of the year on worries about the impact of a growth slowdown in China -- a key driver of world growth -- on other economies.

But ratings agency Standard & Poor's said Wednesday it believed concern about China was overplayed, arguing that it saw the outlook for emerging countries hit by the collapsing oil prices as of greater concern.

"We are much more worried about the prospects for emerging countries outside of China, and in particular raw material producing countries", than the Asian giant's economic woes, leading S&P economist Jean-Michel Six told reporters in Paris.

Crude fell briefly below $30 a barrel in New York Tuesday for the first time since December 2003 but prices picked up after a private report showed US supplies eased last week.

However, the commodity remains under pressure from a supply glut, weak demand and a global slowdown -- especially in China -- while key producers in the OPEC cartel continue to pump at near record levels.

Nigerian authorities said Wednesday the country would not cut oil production despite the nosediving prices.

On Wednesday US benchmark West Texas Intermediate and Brent crude both clambered back above $31 per barrel.

- Key figures around 1645 GMT -

London - FTSE 100: UP 0.54 percent at 5,960.97 points (close)

Frankfurt - DAX 30: DOWN 0.25 percent at 9,960.96 points (close)

Paris - CAC 40: UP 0.30 percent at 4,391.94 points (close)

EURO STOXX 50: UP 0.27 percent at 3,073.02

New York - Dow: DOWN 0.3 percent at 16,465.31 points

Shanghai - Composite: DOWN 2.4 percent at 2,949.60 (close)

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: UP 2.9 percent at 17,715.63 (close)

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.0849 from $1.0858 Tuesday

Dollar/yen: UP at $118.25 yen from 117.66 yen