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Markets rally after early release of Fed minutes

Pan Pylas, AP Business Writer

Trader Peter Tuchman works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange Wednesday, April 10, 2013. Stocks are opening higher on Wall Street, a day after the Dow Jones industrial average closed at its second all-time high in a week. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

LONDON (AP) -- Stock markets rallied on Wednesday, pushing the Standard & Poor's 500 to a record high, after the release of the minutes to the last policy meeting of the U.S. Federal Reserve.

The Fed was forced to release the minutes to the meeting to the March 19-20 meeting hours earlier than planned after apparently inadvertently sending them out to Congressional staffers and lobbyists.

The minutes showed a majority of policymakers at the Fed want the central bank's stimulus program to continue at least through the middle of the year. They remain divided, however, over when to start winding it down.

"Everything still hinges on the performance of the economy," said Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics.

With the S&P hitting its highest level since October 2007, rising 1 percent to 1,584.66, investors were in a buoyant mood. The Dow rose 0.8 percent to 14,790.74, itself heading for another record close.

In Europe, Britain's FTSE 100 index rose 1.1 percent to close at 6,387.37 while Germany's DAX jumped 2.3 percent to 7,810.63. The CAC-40 in France ended 2 percent higher at 3,743.71.

Ahead of Wednesday's gains, markets around the world have largely languished over the past few days on concerns ranging from the tensions on the Korean peninsula, a new strain of bird flu in China that has killed 9 people and worries over Portugal's public finances.

Airline stocks, particularly in Europe, have been hit by the bird flu concerns but they recouped some losses Wednesday. Air-France KLM SA was leading the advance, trading 5.9 percent higher, while Deutsche Lufthansa AG rose 3.4 percent. IAG PLC, which is the name given to the tie-up between British Airways and Spain's Iberia was up 3.5 percent and Easyjet PLC jumped 5.5 percent.

"Airlines, who have not had the smoothest of flights over the last week thanks to the Asian bird flu concerns, are soaring," said Will Hedden, sales trader at IG.

Earlier, Japan's stock market continued to rise on a wave of enthusiasm for the Bank of Japan's aggressive new approach to shaking the world's third-largest economy out of its two-decade slump. The Nikkei 225 index in Tokyo rose 0.7 percent to close at 13,288.13 — its highest close in nearly five years.

Elsewhere, Asian stocks finished mostly higher. Hong Kong's Hang Seng gained 0.8 percent to 22,034.56. South Korea's Kospi advanced 0.7 percent to 1,933.48.

Mainland Chinese stocks were mixed after China released trade data for March. The Shanghai Composite Index rose marginally to 2,226.13. The smaller Shenzhen Composite Index lost 0.5 percent to 921.86.

The price of oil fell below $94 a barrel ahead of the release of supply figures expected to show an increase in crude stockpiles. The benchmark New York rate was 22 cents lower at $93.98 a barrel.

In currency markets, the euro was down 0.1 percent at $1.3058 while the dollar rose 0.5 percent against the Japanese yen, to 99.56 yen.