* FTSEurofirst 300 up 0.2 percent
* AB Inbev, Bayer rise after results
* Investors strongly buy protection ahead of Fed
By Tricia Wright
LONDON, July 31 (Reuters) - European equities rose on Wednesday, kept buoyant by robust data out of the United States and Europe as well as strong earnings releases from major companies.
The FTSEurofirst 300 closed up 0.2 percent at 1,208.17 points, with drinks group AB Inbev leading the gainers, up 6.9 percent, after unveiling higher profits.
Equity markets found some support from data indicating U.S. economic growth accelerated unexpectedly in the second quarter and a separate report showing U.S. private employers maintained a higher pace of hiring in July.
This added to a brightening economic picture in the euro zone, where the number of people unemployed fell for the first time in more than two years in June.
“If the economic environment continues to improve ... then it’s very difficult to see what’s going to derail the equity markets over the short to medium term,” Neil Veitch, investment manager at SVM Asset Management, said.
The FTSEurofirst 300 index is on course to record its best monthly gain since June 2012, having bounced nearly 9 percent off a low of 1,111.11 points hit towards the end of last month.
Despite the market remaining buoyant on Wednesday, investors have been strongly buying protection ahead of the U.S. Federal Reserve’s policy announcement, expected to shed light on the outlook for the central bank’s quantitative easing programme.
The European second-quarter earnings season has proved mixed so far, with profit warnings last week from engineer Siemens and chemicals group BASF contrasting with better results elsewhere.
Of about 44 percent of STOXX Europe 600 companies to have reported second-quarter results, 52 percent have met or beaten market forecasts, according to Thomson Reuters StarMine.
On Wednesday, Bayer advanced 3.6 percent after posting stronger-than-expected new drug sales, with AB Inbev and Bayer among the biggest points contributors to the FTSEurofirst 300.
“We can see light at the end of the tunnel with the potential for positive surprises next time around,” said Ben Kumar, research analyst at Seven Investment Management, which is “overweight” European equities.
“Since February earnings expectations have been revised down and down and down in Europe; the more they are revised downwards the more the chance is of them beating... Fundamentals in Europe are improving and that will eventually start to come through.”