By Francesco Canepa
LONDON Jan 16 (Reuters) - European stocks were seen edging higher on Thursday, building on a 5-1/2 year high hit in the previous session, as further indications that the U.S. economy is strengthening and upbeat European car sales offset mixed trading updates in the consumer sector.
European car sales grew at their fastest pace in four years last month, led by Renault, Volkswagen and Ford, as the sector recovery spread to Mediterranean markets, industry data showed.
Figures in the consumer sector, however, were less upbeat after both Dutch grocer Ahold and luxury group Richemont reported lower than expected quarterly sales.
Mike Reuter, global equity broker at Tradition, said the weak updates may weigh on the retail sector and the broader market in early trade on Thursday but he expected the market to tick higher as the day progressed, provided euro zone inflation data due at 1000 GMT did not disappoint.
"At the moment sentiment is pretty positive so I don't see any negative catalyst stopping the market to go a bit higher later in the day," Reuter said.
At 0732 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 0.3 percent.
The euro zone Euro STOXX 50 index surged to highs not seen since September 2008 on Wednesday, boosted by strong factory data from the United States, an upgrade to the World Bank's global economic growth forecasts and strong results from Bank of America.
The U.S. economy continued to grow at a moderate pace from late November through the end of 2013, with some regions of the country expecting a pick-up in growth, the Federal Reserve said in its Beige Book published late on Wednesday.
Investors will now scrutinise European corporate earnings for further evidence that the economy is improving.
Ahold reported a steeper-than-expected decline in fourth-quarter sales as the food market in the United States contracted and Dutch customers visited its shops as often but bought less.
Richemont said retailers in Asia Pacific remained cautious in the three months to December as it posted a below-forecast sales increase of 9 percent at constant exchange rates.
Europe's largest retailer Carrefour, meanwhile, said sales in austerity-hit Spain returned to growth in the fourth quarter for the first time since 2008, but French and Brazilian like-for-like sales slowed. AB Foods said group revenue was flat for the 16 weeks to Jan. 4.
Euro zone final inflation data, due at 1000 GMT, was also on traders' radar. Data released last week showed that inflation in the euro zone slowed to 0.8 percent year-on-year in December, well below the European Central Bank's target of near, but under 2 percent. Low inflation for an extended period can deflate wages and demand, depressing the economy.
> Dollar regains swagger, Tokyo shares upbeat after U.S. data > S&P 500 closes at record on bank earnings, data > Nikkei gains as strong U.S., Japan data bolster risk appetite > Treasuries' yields rise on higher inflation > Dollar back in form, Aussie dives to 3-1/2-year low > Gold steady after 2-day fall, economic optimism weighs > LME copper near 1-week peak, physical shortage underpins > Brent falls below $107 as supply outlook brightens
The world's no. 2 iron ore miner recorded big increases in production of iron ore and other minerals it sells mainly to China, betting the country's massive economic growth will provide a ready market for decades to come.
Deliveries of the six biggest categories of white goods in the United States (AHAM 6) rose 7.4 percent year-on-year in December and 9.4 percent in the full year 2013, data from industry body the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers showed late on Wednesday.
The French state has raised 451 million euros ($613 million)from the sale of around 1 percent of the capital of European aerospace company Airbus Group AIR.PA, Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici said in a statement on Thursday.
The phone company holds board meeting on Thursday.
Rebel investor Marco Fossati has asked Telecom Italia to give minority shareholders more board seats as he seek to reduce the influence of Spain's Telefonica over its rival.
Moody's has placed on review for downgrade the 'Baa3' long-term deposit rating of FGA Capital, Fiat's dealer and retail financing joint venture with Credit Agricole.
The insurer said Allianz has made an offer to buy some assets it must sell for antitrust reasons and the Italian insurer will discuss the proposal at meetings called for next Tuesday.
The board of its UnipolSai unit has decided to launch a two-year mandatory convertible bond worth up to 201.8 million euros.
POPOLARE DI MILANO
The bank this week should take the long-expected step of naming Giuseppe Castagna as its chief executive, sources close to the matter said, ending a long power vacuum that has forced it to delay a capital increase.
Traffic at Paris' airports rose 1.7 percent to 90.3 million passengers in 2013, led by a 3.8 percent rise at Orly airport, the airport operator said.
The French cosmetics group said it had settled its legal tussle with online marketplace eBay, which it had claimed was liable for trademark infringements by its users.
The French state utility said that following Tuesday's announcement of a $4.7 billion senior bonds offering, it had successfully raised a 4.0 billion euros equivalent hybrid bond issuance in four tranches and three currencies