* ECB lending, German Ifo data bolster rate cut expectations
* European shares build on biggest jump in seven months
* Euro hits three-week lows vs dollar before rebound
* Durable goods data weighs on U.S. stocks
By Herbert Lash
NEW YORK, April 24 Global equity markets and crude oil edged higher on Wednesday, drawing support from strong corporate earnings and speculation of a European Central Bank interest rate cut after weak German economic data.
Wall Street traded flat to lower after a report said U.S. durable goods recorded their biggest drop in seven months in March, which tempered enthusiasm over what has so far been a relatively robust U.S. earnings season.
A gauge of planned business spending rose only modestly, indicating a slowdown in U.S. economic activity, which also weighed on U.S. equities.
But news from the Munich-based Ifo think tank that German business sentiment in April was worse than the most pessimistic forecasts and fell for the second consecutive month boosted European equities while weighing on the euro.
The Ifo report added to the view that the ECB is closer to lowering interest rates than at any time since it last cut them in July 2012 and is likely to cut rates a quarter-point at its policy meeting next week.
"There is enthusiasm the ECB is poised to cut rates and that simply means more liquidity and that is the underlying, basic strong factor for stock markets around the globe," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital in New York.
Cardillo said earnings continue to surprise to the upside for the most part, so enthusiasm for equities continues to grow.
Analysts see earnings growth of 3.1 percent this quarter, up from expectations of 1.5 percent at the start of the month.
Of the 174 companies in the S&P 500 index that have reported first-quarter results, 68.4 percent have beat analysts' expectations, according to Thomson Reuters data through Wednesday morning. Since 1994, 63 percent have surpassed estimates on average, while the beat rate is 67 percent over the past four quarters.
Global equity markets, as measured by MSCI's all-country world equity index, rose 0.55 percent to 363.02.
On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average was down 17.92 points, or 0.12 percent, at 14,701.54. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was up 0.95 points, or 0.06 percent, at 1,579.73. The Nasdaq Composite Index was down 4.59 points, or 0.14 percent, at 3,264.74.
European shares chalked up a fourth straight session of gains. The FTSEurofirst 300 of top regional shares closed up a provisional 0.7 percent at 1,191.64.
British insurer Standard Life and Portuguese retailer Jeronimo Martins led gainers, surging 8.0 percent and 6.8 percent, respectively, after announcing strong first-quarter numbers.
Brent crude rose above $101 a barrel as U.S. stocks of gasoline declined, but gains were checked by the prospect of slower growth and fuel demand in major economies.
Brent futures were up $1.21 to $101.52 a barrel. U.S. crude futures gained $1.68 to $90.86.
"It's an unusual situation in that bad economic news is good news for markets because it implies more easing by the central banks," said Olivier Jakob, analyst at Petromatrix in Zug, Switzerland.
The euro initially edged lower against the dollar but held above a near three-week low as hopes that Italy can resolve its political gridlock were trumped by the weak German data, which fanned talk of an ECB rate cut.
The euro dropped to $1.2954, its lowest since April 5, before paring losses to trade slightly lower at $1.2992.
The benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note was unchanged to yield 1.7064 percent.