GLOBAL MARKETS-European stocks hit highest since 2008 crash

Last Updated: Wed, Mar 06, 2013 09:20 hrs

* MSCI world share index just under June 2008 high

* European shares edge up, euro steady as investors book profits

* Markets look to ECB, BoE meetings for signs of stimulus

By Marc Jones

LONDON, March 6 (Reuters) - European stock markets rose to their highest since the 2008 financial crisis on Wednesday, helped by signs the U.S. economy is improving and expectations of more pledges of support for growth from major central banks.

The European Central Bank, the Bank of England and the Bank of Japan are all expected to stick to ultra-easy monetary policy at meetings this week, following on from reassurances by U.S. Federal Reserve officials that their stimulus programme remains in place.

Analysts even see some scope for fresh action in Europe on Thursday, giving a 40 percent chance for more bond buying from the Bank of England and a 10 percent likelihood of an interest rate cut from the ECB.

That drove Wall Street's Dow Jones industrial index to an all-time high on Tuesday and indices of both world and European shares inched up further on Wednesday.

"It's panic buying," said Nick Xanders, who heads up European equity strategy at BTIG. "At this stage everyone wants to buy it, everyone wants to get involved and everyone is scared of underperforming."

The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 gained 0.2 percent with London's FTSE 100 Paris's CAC-40 inching up 0.3-0.4 percent and Frankfurt's DAX surging 0.9 percent.

"Indexes are breaking above big resistance levels and this is creating room on the upside," said Lionel Jardin, head of institutional sales at Assya Capital, in Paris.

"The sentiment is that central banks are going to remain very accommodative for a while, and at the same time companies are in really good shape, with strong cashflows."

Still, with the ECB's meeting in view and worries over the euro zone's debt crisis again on the rise due to Italy's political deadlock, German government bonds recovered some poise after a selloff in the previous session.

The Bund future was flat on the day at 145.03 after dropping by around half a point on Tuesday.

In the currency market, the euro was also steady at $1.3048 as traders waited to see whether the recent disappointing economic data and ongoing debt worries will be enough to see the ECB surprise consensus and cut rates on Thursday.

Italian centre-left leader Bersani - the man who won most votes in last week's fractured election - also presents his policy plans to his PD party later. It could be significant if he produces enough for populist leader Beppe Grillo to support on an ad hoc basis.

"There's reasonable downside to the euro. The situation in Italy is still uncertain," said Bill Diviney, currency strategist at Barclays.

"Although we don't expect any big changes to President Draghi's stance but he's going to stay fairly dovish given uncertainties," he added.

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