* FTSEurofirst 300 up 1.3 pct, tracks Wall St rally
* Putin will hold press conference at 0900 GMT
* Greek stocks dip in early trade
By Blaise Robinson
PARIS, Dec 18 (Reuters) - European stocks rose early on Thursday, tracking a rally on Wall Street after the U.S. Federal Reserve gave an upbeat assessment of the economy and said it would take a patient approach toward raising interest rates.
Fed Chair Janet Yellen told a news conference that “patient” meant the policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee was unlikely to hike rates for “at least a couple of meetings”, meaning April of next year at the earliest.
U.S. stocks and bond yields rallied as investors digested the comments, which evinced faith in the economy while still projecting a slow-going approach to rate hikes.
“It’s clear now that it will take many Fed meetings before we see the start of the normalisation process of the U.S. monetary policy. This is very good news for markets, with the first interest rate hike not seen before at least June 2015.” said John Plassard, senior sales trader at Mirabaud Securities, in Geneva.
At 0835 GMT, the FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares was up 1.3 percent at 1,333.81 points.
Banking stocks featured among the top gainers, with Societe Generale and Banco Popolare both up 2.9 percent.
Shares in Raiffeisen Bank International, which recently plummeted on worries over its exposure to the brewing Russian financial crisis, gained 7.7 percent.
Shares in Finnish winter tyre specialist Nokian Renkaat , which has also been dragged down by fears over its exposure to Russia, gained 4.2 percent.
Russia’s rouble remained volatile on Thursday ahead of President Vladimir Putin’s end-of-year news conference at 0900 GMT. The market expects to hear support for the rouble, which has fallen around 45 percent against the dollar so far this year.
Greek stocks bucked the trend, with Athens’s ATG index down 0.3 percent in early trade after a poll showed the radical leftist Syriza party holds a 3.6-percentage-point lead over the ruling conservatives.
The poll was published hours after Prime Minister Antonis Samaras lost the first round of a presidential vote by a larger-than-expected margin, in a disappointing result for his conservative-centre left coalition ahead of two more rounds of voting in parliament this month.
European stocks sank in the first half of December as the relentless drop in oil prices hammered energy shares and fuelled fears of deflation in the euro zone, while the collapse of Russia’s rouble has sparked worries about the country’s economy and the impact on Europe’s recovery.
However, a Reuters poll showed on Wednesday that European shares are set to bounce back in 2015, helped by the European Central Bank’s ultra-loose policy and as a weaker euro and lower oil prices lift earnings.
The survey of more than 50 fund managers and strategists conducted in the past week predicted the pan-European STOXX Europe 600 index would rise 13 percent from current levels to 370 points by the end of 2015.
Europe bourses in 2014: link.reuters.com/pap87v
Asset performance in 2014: link.reuters.com/gap87v
Today’s European research round-up
Editing by Mark Trevelyan