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U.S. stocks appear ready to start the day higher, joining most global equities and gold, which set another record.

Dow Jones futures were up 74 points, or 0.6 per cent, at 12,401. S&P 500 futures gained 9.1 points, or 0.7 per cent, to 1,335.80, while Nasdaq futures rallied 20.25 points, or 0.9 per cent, to 2,343.50.

In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was up 0.4 per cent at 6,032 while Germany's DAX rose 0.6 per cent to 7,222. The CAC-40 in France was 0.1 per cent higher at 4,044.

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Gold rallied to a record of $1,460.40 (U.S.) an ounce, driven by a slide in the U.S. dollar and investor demand for safe-haven assets, while silver hit $39.54 an ounce, its highest level in 31 years.

Investors weighed unrest across the Arab world and unease over the euro zone's debt finances against a less pessimistic take on the U.S. economy from the Federal Reserve.

The focus this week is on Thursday's three central bank policy meetings, at which the European Central Bank is likely to raise rates, boosting the euro against the dollar, while the Bank of Japan and the Bank of England are expected to hold their fire.

The U.S. dollar fell to 14-month lows against the euro, which has been buoyed by signals from policymakers that the European Central Bank will raise rates on Thursday for the first time since July 2008. A quarter percentage-point increase in the main rate to 1.25 per cent is fully priced in by the markets, so investors will be more interested in what the central bank's president Jean-Claude Trichet says in his press conference.

Japan's battered Nikkei 225 closed down 0.3 per cent to 9,584.37, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng gained 0.6 per cent to 24,285.05. In China, investors brushed off the previous day's interest rate increase as the Shanghai Composite Index returned from a holiday to close 1.1 per cent higher at 3,001.36.

Oil prices stayed near a 2-1/2 year peak. U.S. crude traded around $108.20 a barrel -- slightly below its Tuesday closing.

Copper rose to its highest level in about a week, on prospects of better commodity imports data from top consumer China. The softer U.S. dollar helped as well, since that makes metals cheaper for holders of other currencies.

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