LONDON Jan 8 (Reuters) - European stocks were seen edging higher at the open on Wednesday, consolidating near 5-1/2-year highs hit in the previous session, with British supermarket J Sainsbury among likely gainers as it reported an unexpected rise in quarterly sales.
Sainsbury was indicated to open higher after it posted a small rise in sales in the 14 weeks to Jan. 4, its fiscal third quarter, ahead of analysts' forecasts which ranged from flat to down 1 percent and marking a 36th consecutive quarter of underlying sales growth.
Gains on broader indexes were expected to be more muted as investors waited for new signs that the region's economy is picking up before committing more money to stocks.
At 0733 GMT, futures for the Euro STOXX 50, Britain's FTSE 100 , Germany's DAX and France's CAC were up between 0.1 percent and 0.2 percent.
The euro zone unemployment rate at 1000 GMT, seen steady at 12.1 percent, and U.S. private-sector hiring data at 1315 GMT were due to set the scene for the European Central Bank's first policy meeting of the year on Thursday and U.S. non-farm payrolls figure on the following day.
German exports rose for the fourth consecutive month in November as trade picked up especially to European Union countries outside the euro, but imports dropped by 1.1 percent, data showed on Wednesday.
"This is good for Germany but bad for the rest of Europe," said Markus Huber, senior sales trader at Peregrine & Black.
Huber was "slightly long" on Germany's Dax index as he awaited the employment data and the release of the Federal Reserve's December policy meeting later on Wednesday before increasing his exposure.
The FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares rose 0.8 percent to 1,319.74 points on Tuesday after hitting a high not seen since mid-2008 at 1,321.47 points earlier in the session. > Asia shares follow as Wall St, Europe lead the pack > Wall St scores first rally of 2014 > Nikkei rises as risk appetite recovers on U.S. data > TREASURIES-U.S. bond prices rise but three-year debt sale weak > Dollar back in favour as CAD comes under fire > Gold dips on stronger equities, U.S. growth hopes > London copper holds steady, brighter U.S. prospects support > Brent holds steady above $107 on worries over Libyan supplies
The Franco-Dutch airline said on Wednesday that passenger traffic rose 2.1 percent in December year-on-year after all regions except for Asia saw growth and it carried 6.2 million people.
The company's Pasar copper smelter in the Philippines plans to restart as soon as January 15, after being damaged by Typhoon Haiyan in November, two sources said on Wednesday.
A heavily armed autonomy group in eastern Libya said on Tuesday it would invite foreign companies to buy oil from seized ports and protect arriving tankers, challenging Tripoli which has promised to use force to stop them.
Moody's placed the Ba3 rating of Fiat under review for a possible downgrade on Tuesday to reflect the impact on the Italian car maker's cash position of its plans to take full control of Chrysler Group LLC.
Fiat will begin modifying production lines at its Mirafiori plant in northern Italy very soon, union sources said on Tuesday, suggesting the company is making good on its pledge to safeguard car manufacturing in its domestic market.
Fiom metalworkers' union Secretary General Maurizio Landini holds news conference on Fiat on Wednesday (1200 GMT).
Nestle SA is set to enter a biotechnology partnership with Cellular Dynamics International (CDI) to study the relation between diet and disease, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Health insurer WellPoint Inc said on Tuesday it reached an agreement to sell an online eye glasses business, glasses.com, to Luxottica.
A former high-ranking UBS banker charged with helping Americans dodge taxes through secret Swiss bank accounts pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to fraud conspiracy charges linked to a U.S. tax evasion investigation that shook Swiss banking to the core.
LLOYDS BANKING GROUP
A mass sell-off of the government's 33 percent stake in Lloyds Banking Group has moved a step closer after the management of the bailed out bank was asked by UK Financial Investments, which looks after the taxpayer's shares, to draw up the detailed information needed for a sale, the Guardian newspaper and Sky News reported.
BANCA MONTE DEI PASCHI DI SIENA
Market watchdog Consob has sent a letter to Monte dei Paschi asking to clarify if the bank's top executives will stay on, says La Repubblica. A decision should be taken at a board member likely to take place on Jan. 14. A group of Italian banking foundations that include Cariplo, Carifirenze and Cariverona remain interested in possibly buying a stake in Monte dei Paschi, according to La Repubblica.
La Stampa and Il Messaggero say Banca Popolare di Milano Chairman would like to ask Monte dei Paschi CEO Fabrizio Viola to take the helm of the Milan-based bank. Pop Milano is due to hold a board meeting on Jan. 14.
SSE - The British energy supplier will cut its prices in response to a government pledge to remove some taxes and social charges from bills by the end of the current financial year, later than most of its rivals, the company said late on Tuesday.
SACYR, SALINI IMPREGILO
The Panama Canal and a Spanish-led building consortium expanding the major world cargo route are haggling over financing to keep work going amid a cost dispute, raising hopes of a deal.