LONDON, March 14 (Reuters) - European shares were expected to extend gains on Wednesday after hitting 33-week highs the previous day, with recent positive economic data and the U.S. Federal Reserve's expectations of an improvement in growth boosting appetite for riskier assets. The U.S. central bank said late on Tuesday it expected "moderate" growth over the coming quarters with the unemployment rate declining gradually. In January the Fed had said it expected "modest" growth. It also said that most of the largest U.S. banks passed their annual stress test. Futures for the Euro STOXX 50, Germany's DAX and France's CAC rose 0.4 to 0.6 percent, indicating a higher open for equities. Financial spreadbetters earlier predicted Britain's FTSE 100 to rise as much as 0.6 percent. "Markets will once again open higher this morning. The main drivers are the comments by the Fed and the news that JPMorgan will buy back shares," said Philippe Gijsels, head of research at BNP Paribas Fortis Global Markets in Brussels. "As long as the bonanza lasts, higher beta groups like cyclicals and financials will continue to lead. Nevertheless as risks to a correction have increased, it may be time to revisit more defensive groups like pharmaceuticals." The FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares ended up 1.7 percent on Tuesday at 1,095.34 points, the highest close since late July, on encouraging data from Germany and the United States. The index, which fell 10.7 percent last year, has gained 9.4 percent so far in 2012. Technical outlook for the benchmark index improved after recent gains. The index faces resistance at around 1,115 - a high in July and a 78.6 percent Fibonacci retracement of a major fall from February to September last year. Investors will keep an eye on Italy, which is expected to raise up to six billion euros at a bond auction on Wednesday and bring the nation's 3-year borrowing costs below 3 percent, half what it had to pay a few months ago. U.S. stocks surged 1.7 to 1.9 percent on Tuesday, boosted by JPMorgan Chase's announcement of raising its dividend, stronger-than-expected retail sales numbers and the Fed's comments that recent strains on financial markets were easing. Japan's Nikkei average climbed 1.5 percent to close above 10,000 for the first time in seven months on Wednesday. MARKET SNAPSHOT AT 0725 GMT LAST PCT CHG NET CHG S&P 500 1,395.95 1.81 % 24.86 NIKKEI 10,050.52 1.53 % 151.44 MSCI ASIA EX-JP <.MIASJ0000PUS 0.45 % 2.36 > EUR/USD 1.3037 -0.29 % -0.0038 USD/JPY 83.11 0.27 % 0.2200 10-YR US TSY YLD 2.162 -- 0.04 10-YR BUND YLD 1.889 -- 0.07 SPOT GOLD $1,669.89 -0.29 % -$4.86 US CRUDE $106.43 -0.26 % -0.28 * Increased risk appetite lifts shares after data, Fed * Nikkei jumps above 10,000 for 4th day, blue chips up * Dollar stronger across the board, hits 11-mth high vs yen * Brent crude steadies above $126 ahead of US oil data * Gold edges up on bargain hunting, U.S. dollar weighs * Brent crude steadies above $126 ahead of US oil data * Copper pauses after gains on data, Fed * Wall St rallies in 2012's best day, Citi falls late COMPANY NEWS BAYER German chemicals and drugs group Bayer said its HealthCare and CropScience divisions would widen their margins and increase sales over the next three years. E.ON Germany's top utility expects its core profit to rise this year and next as it banks on its renewable energy business and foreign expansion following Germany's nuclear exit, which led it to post a 2.22 billion euro ($2.9 billion) net loss for 2011. TULLOW OIL UK-based oil explorer Tullow Oil said profit soared last year thanks to the ramp up of a major new field in Ghana, allowing the company to announce a doubling of its dividend. NOVO NORDISK The Danish insulin producer is planning to grow its biopharmaceuticals businesses including growth hormone treatments and hemophilia treatments, daily Jyllands-Posten said. The two business areas are a significantly more profitable than the key insulin business, Jyllands-Posten said. ROCHE Roche Holding AG said it received a request for additional information from the Federal Trade Commission related to its $5.7 billion hostile bid for U.S. gene decoder Illumina Inc . XSTRATA The company has sold a stake in its burgeoning Canadian coking coal operations to JX Nippon, forming a joint venture with the Japanese oil refiner to build the business and market the coal in Japan. SCHRODERS The company is in talks to acquire an almost 30 percent stake in India's Axis Asset Management in a deal worth around 1.3 billion rupees ($26 million), two Indian newspapers reported citing unnamed sources. EADS Europe's leading space company, Astrium, is "generally interested" in acquiring one of two U.S. digital imagery providers, GeoEye Inc or DigitalGlobe Inc, and would look carefully at a deal if the price was affordable, a top Astrium executive told Reuters. TOTAL The sovereign wealth fund of Qatar has built up a 2 percent stake in the French oil major since last summer, according to newspaper Les Echos. BIOMERIEUX The French in-vitro diagnostics group said it would temper the ambitions put forward in its 2010-2015 strategic plan to reflect a weaker economic outlook that has hit demand for its testing products. AMUNDI The asset-management industry will face continued pressure on fund flows in 2012 as investors remain averse to risk and as deposit-hungry banks lure clients away with lucrative returns, the chief executive of Amundi told Reuters. Amundi, which is 75 percent-owned by French bank Credit Agricole and 25 percent-owned by larger rival Societe Generale, nonetheless expects to grow revenue and profit this year as it expands its range of products and partnerships.