* FTSEurofirst 300 index gains 1.6 percent
* China trade data helps markets
* Aegon jumps after updates, miners in demand
By Atul Prakash
LONDON, Jan 13 (Reuters) - European equities advanced on Wednesday, led higher by Dutch insurer Aegon following an update on its strategy and targets, with better-than-expected Chinese trade data also soothing investors’ fragile sentiment.
Commodities-related stocks were in demand as metals and oil prices rose. The European mining and energy indexes gained 3 percent and 3.5 percent respectively, helped by a 2 to 4 percent rise in Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton , BP and Royal Dutch Shell.
Aegon surged 11.4 percent, the biggest gain in the pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index, after the group provided an update on its strategy, gave financial targets and said it will increase its profitability and capital returns.
The FTSEurofirst 300 index rose 1.6 percent to 1,370.94 points by 0859 GMT, extending the previous session’s gains. The recent rally follows losses in the previous four sessions to a three-month low on concerns about the pace of economic growth in China, a leading consumer of metals and crude oil.
Sentiment improved slightly after data showed China’s total trade fell far less than expected in December. Exports fell 1.4 percent from a year earlier, compared to a forecast 8 percent drop and a 6.8 percent decline in November.
China’s central bank held the line on its yuan for a fourth straight session, calming fears of a sustained depreciation. Having been alarmed by a near 5 percent slide in the currency since August, investors appeared relieved by the stabilisation.
“Markets seem to be stabilising and moving higher as sentiment is turning. The yuan is no longer moving lower, but each and every piece of data from China will be looked at with much attention,” Philippe Gijsels, head of research at BNP Paribas Fortis Global Markets in Brussels, said.
“Going forward, the market will focus on the earnings season that is unfolding. European earnings momentum should be reasonably strong and be supportive for the market.”
Sodexo rose 1.1 percent after the French food services and facilities management group posted organic revenue growth of 4.7 percent for the first quarter of 2015/16, while British recruitment firm Hays rose 2.6 percent after reporting an underlying 7 percent rise in quarterly net fees.
European companies’ earnings are expected to grow at their fastest rate in four years, significantly outpacing their U.S. peers as a weaker euro and signs of economic recovery swell profit margins. (Editing by Dominic Evans)