european stocks

European stocks traded higher in the opening minutes as investors awaited the region's service-sector data amid a meeting of eurozone finance ministers in Brussels.

The FTSEurofirst 300 index tracking the region's blue-chip stocks gained 0.3 percent to 1,172.25. The UK's FTSE 100 gained 0.5 percent while Germany's DAX was up 1.1 percent.

Spain's IBEX rose 1 percent while France's CAC-40 added 0.7 percent. In Italy, the FTSE MIB gained 0.8 percent.

The single currency strengthened moderately against the dollar, trading at about $1.30.

The eurozone finance ministers' meeting in Brussels this week has come to a consensus on the bailout to Cyprus. Although the finer details of the deal are still unknown, the bailout could happen by the end of this month.

Later in the day, Cyprus' foreign lenders - the European Commission, European Central Bank (ECB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) - will visit the country for inspections on the matter.

The EU ministers are expected to consider the European Union's decision to cap bankers' bonuses. Britain is planning to voice its objection on the matter during the talks.

Meanwhile Italy's economic concerns are back in focus, as sharp political differences look set to lead the country towards fresh elections, while the eurozone service sector's purchasing managers; index is set for release during the day.

Asian markets had ended higher earlier as traders speculated on China's economic prospects and possible stimulus measures from Bank of Japan's next governor.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei index rose 0.27 percent to 11683.45 while South Korea's KOSPI was up 0.17 percent to 2016.6. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 added 1.30 percent to 5075.4.

In China, the Shanghai Composite Index gained 2.33 percent to 2326.3.Hong Kong's Hang Seng traded 0.51 percent to 22651.9 towards close.

China has kickstarted its National People's Congress this week, which will see the incoming president and premier take office. Opening the meet, the departing premier Wen Jiabao revealed that the world's second-largest economy could expand at 7.5 percent in 2013, leaving the target rates unchanged from the previous year. In his opening remarks, Wen stressed the need for governmental investments to boost private investment.

In Japan, stimulus speculations continued to guide market sentiments. All eyes are now on the governments' candidate for the Bank of Japan governor post, Haruhiko Kuroda. The former ADB chief has indicated that he would remain supportive of the Shinzo Abe-led administration's efforts to boost Japan's ailing economy.

Meanwhile, the Reserve Bank of Australia has retained its interest rate at 3 percent for the second consecutive month, indicating further possible cuts if needed. The central bank reiterated that the effects of the recent stimulus measures could take more time to be visible, although the global economic conditions have improved.