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By Marc Jones
LONDON (Reuters) - European shares edged up on Tuesday as data signalled the euro zone economy may be stabilising at a weak level, and the euro held steady while commodity markets were largely subdued as investors sat on recent gains.
The data was mixed. Euro zone business confidence improved again in December, but unemployment reached a new record and households held back from spending in the run-up to Christmas, suggesting a recovery from recession will be slow. German industrial orders also fell more than forecast due to a sharp drop in demand from abroad.
European shares had already recovered from early falls by the time the euro zone data was published and they were up 0.3 percent by 1200 GMT while the euro held steady at just over $1.3120.
Deutsche Bank economist Gilles Moec said the data were in line with the euro zone purchasing managers' indexes.
"What we knew from the PMIs was that we have some stabilisation albeit in a state of recession in Q4, and that is what these data are also pointing to," he said. "Things are bad, it is still consistent with recession, but at least they have stopped deteriorating."
London's FTSE 100 and Paris's CAC-40 had both shrugged off their morning weakness by midday although Frankfurt's DAX continued to lag after a slump in exports pointed to a poor end to 2012 for the German economy.
Wall Street was expected to open in a more cautious mood with futures for the S&P 500, the Dow Jones and the Nasdaq 100 between flat and down 0.3 percent.
In the currency market, the dollar paused a sharp rally against the yen which has seen it climb almost 12 percent in less than two months. The rise has come as expectations grow that Japan's new government will push the central bank to ease policy aggressively in the next few months.
The dollar was last down 0.4 percent at 87.40 yen, some way off the 2-1/2 year high of 88.48 hit last Friday.
"We will perhaps see a marginal retracement (in dollar/yen) over the next couple days and I'd be slightly more bearish dollar over the next few days ... on profit taking," said Geoff Kendrick, FX strategist at Nomura.
Bond markets smoothly digested the first debt sales of the year by the Netherlands and Austria as well as Spain's announcement that it plans to borrow 121.3 billion euros this year, 7.6 percent more than 2012.
Madrid is expected by many people to turn to official lenders for a bailout in 2013, although a European Central Bank promise to keep the euro together has significantly reduced the pressure.
German government bond prices also edged higher as investors dipped a toe back into the market for low-yielding but secure assets as a steep selloff last week made valuations more attractive.
The German bund future was up 15 ticks at 143.21, climbing for a second day after a small rise on Monday and moving in line with U.S. Treasuries. The rebound follows a three point sell off last week when an easing of U.S. fiscal concerns saw investors pile into riskier assets.
In commodity and metal markets, oil steadied above $111 a barrel, copper was flat and gold edged back above $1,655 an ounce before data on Thursday from China and the ECB's monthly meeting.
"The market is underpinned by expectations that a cyclical rebounding out of China will be positive for industrial metals, and there is more positive sentiment now in the market," said Robin Bhar, analyst at Societe Generale.
(Additional reporting by Harpreet Bhal and Anooja Debnath; editing by David Stamp)