LONDON - European stocks have turned flat but London coasted higher on the back of a Santa Rally in subdued trade after a long Christmas holiday.

The British capital's benchmark FTSE 100 index of top blue-chip firms won 0.4 percent from last Friday's close, as traders returned from a four-day holiday weekend. Frankfurt and Paris, which had reopened Tuesday, were both barely changed on Wednesday. Thin trading volumes are expected to continue during what is the last trading week of 2016. "The FTSE 100 is higher ... as the so-called Santa Claus Rally appears to have begun," noted analyst David Cheetham at brokerage XTB.

"Observers of the markets have for many years noticed a strong propensity for stocks to rise in the period between Christmas and the New Year and this phenomenon appears to be playing out once more." Accendo Markets analyst Mike van Dulken noted that London was being propped up by the commodities sector on the back of rising oil prices.

The main corporate deal of the day was British energy giant BP, which announced it has bought a network of Australian petrol stations from supermarket chain Woolworths for US$1.3b. BP said in a statement that it will establish a strategic partnership with Woolworths in a deal for the purchase, rebranding and operation of Woolworths' existing 527 fuel and convenience stores, plus 16 sites under construction, for the equivalent of AUS$1.8b.

The company's share price bumped 0.7 percent higher to stand at 506.50 pence in London. In Asia, Hong Kong stocks rose Wednesday to rebound from recent lows. Tokyo shares ended flat despite Toshiba's second straight double-digit plunge.

Stock in the troubled Japanese conglomerate Toshiba plummeted more than 20 percent as the company said it may book a one-time loss of several billion dollars over its US nuclear business. Hong Kong finished up 0.8 percent on the market's first working day since Christmas, while Shanghai slid 0.4 percent by the close.

Oil prices pushed higher ahead of US energy inventory data due Thursday, but analysts said trading volumes were around half typical levels. "On such low volumes it's difficult to read much into the moves and focus will turn to OPEC in the new year," said CMC Markets sales trader Alex Furber, referring to planned output curbs by the oil cartel to bolster prices.