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Markets up further as investors remain confident

LONDON (AP) — The new year rally in global markets showed few signs of abating Monday ahead of a speech on monetary policy from Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke.

A number of stock indexes around the world have hit multi-year highs as a key measure of volatility, the so-called VIX index, has fallen to a five-year low. The main reasons have been relief that U.S. lawmakers agreed a last-minute package of measures to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff" of automatic spending cuts and tax increases and renewed hopes over the debt crisis in the 17 European Union countries that use the euro.

"After the uncertainties of 2012, ranging from the eurozone crisis to the 'fiscal cliff,' which understandably, created a degree of defensiveness on the part of real money investors, the mood is now bullish," said Neil MacKinnon, global macro strategist at VTB Capital.

European markets started the new week the way their left the last one — on the up — despite figures showing that industrial output surprisingly fell by 0.3 percent in November.

Germany's DAX rose 0.6 percent to 7,759 while the CAC-40 in France was 0.4 percent higher at 3,722. Britain's FTSE 100 index was up 0.1 percent at 6,129.

Wall Street was poised for modest gains too, with both Dow futures and the broader S&P 500 futures up 0.1 percent.

Much of the focus this week will likely center on the next round of U.S. corporate earnings, particularly from banks, such as Bank of America and Citigroup.

"Expectations are extremely low around fourth quarter earnings, despite stock indices trading at multi-year highs, which suggests there's plenty of room for the rally to continue in the short term," said Craig Erlam, market analyst at Alpari.

After the markets close in the U.S., Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke is due to speak and investors will be interested to hear if he sounds more confident about the U.S. economy and provides hints on future monetary policy.

"Given how much Bernanke's comments have a knack of creating volatility in the markets, this may be one to watch very closely," said Erlam.

Any market response to Bernanke's comments will initially likely be felt in the currency markets. Ahead of his speech, the dollar was fairly flat, with the euro up 0.1 percent at $1.3361.

Markets have also been helped by expectations that figures on Friday will show China's economy gaining traction following a period of relative weakness. China reported last week a rise in exports and imports, a sign of higher demand both inside and outside the country. More signs of improvement are expected when China releases a slew of data on Friday, including factory output, investment and retail sales.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 0.6 percent to 23,413.26. South Korea's Kospi added 0.3 percent to 2,002.77 and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 advanced 0.2 percent to 4,719.70. Japan's financial markets were closed for a public holiday.

Mainland Chinese stock markets were boosted when Guo Shuqing, chairman of the China's securities regulator, said at a conference in Hong Kong that there was room to raise by "at least" tenfold the quota of foreign institutions allowed to invest in China's domestic stock markets, which are largely off-limits to outsiders because of capital controls.

Mainland China's Shanghai Composite Index soared 3.1 percent to 2,311.74 while the Shenzhen Composite Index for China's second, smaller stock market jumped 3.6 percent to 918.23.

Oil prices tracked equities higher, with the benchmark New York rate up 65 cents to $94.21 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

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Pamela Sampson in Bangkok contributed to this report.

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