* FTSEurofirst 300 up 0.6 pct, Euro STOXX 50 (Zurich: ^STOXX50E - news) up 0.8 pct * China Mobile's spending plans boost telecom gear makers * Market sentiment lifted by recent U.S. macro data * Eyes on EU summit debate on need to ease austerity * Hedge funds increasing long equity positions -SG By Blaise Robinson PARIS, March 14 (Reuters) - European shares rose on Thursday, resuming the two-week rally that has propelled indexes to multi-year highs, as a string of upbeat U.S. data fuels hopes of an improvement in the global economic outlook. Shares in European telecom gear makers rallied, with Ericsson (Stockholm: ERIC-B.ST - news) up 2.5 percent and Alcatel (Paris: FR0000130007 - news) -Lucent up 3 percent, after the world's largest mobile carrier China Mobile said it plans to spend $6.7 billion to develop 4G technology this year. At 1140 GMT, the FTSEurofirst 300 index of blue chip European shares was up 0.6 percent at 1,200.98 points, surpassing an intraday high of 1,197.73 points reached last Friday, a level not seen since September 2008. The broader STOXX Europe 600 was up 0.5 percent, hitting a near five-year high, while Germany's DAX (Xetra: ^GDAXI - news) was up 0.8 percent, reaching a level not seen since January 2008. "We're bullish, as more and more investors are, and we're seeing people getting rid of their derivative hedges, which explains the drop in volatility indexes," said David Thebault, head of quantitative sales trading at Global Equities. "The only worry is that we're seeing improving macro data from the United States, but not yet in Europe, which means the market is rising on hopes and not real signs, and the risk is that the rally won't be immune to disappointment from the macro side." Investors were keeping a close eye on a two-day European Union summit starting on Thursday, which is expected to focus on how to address high unemployment and the need to ease austerity measures to revive economic growth. "The market is expecting a change in tone about the austerity drive. The leaders should be realising now that they need to loosen it otherwise the economy won't turn the corner," Global Equities's Thebault said. The euro zone's Euro STOXX 50 index was up 0.8 percent at 2,727.33 points. The blue chip index, which has been hammered by Europe's three-year sovereign debt crisis, still needs to rise about 13 percent before reaching its 2008 levels. The Euro STOXX 50 Volatility Index, or VSTOXX, Europe's widely used measure of investor risk aversion, was down 9.3 percent to a six-week low of 15.34 on Thursday, signalling a sharp rise in equity investor optimism. "It's a massive drop, and investors are indeed lowering their portfolio protection, but the expiry of options and futures contracts tomorrow is also mechanically fuelling the drop," a Paris-based derivatives trader said. HIGHEST BUYING INTEREST SINCE 2009 According to Societe Generale (Paris: FR0000130809 - news) strategists, hedge funds have been increasing their short positions on volatility and long positions on equities, betting that central banks will continue to provide abundant liquidity to support the economic recovery. "The Fed has strongly reiterated its intention to continue QE (quantitative easing) for now, and hedge funds have paid close attention," the strategists wrote in a note, saying the level of net buying interest on the S&P 500 is at its highest since June 2009. Euro zone banking stocks - which still have the lowest price-to-book ratios among the region's blue chips despite their strong rally since last July - featured among the top gainers on Thursday, with France's BNP Paribas (Milan: BNP.MI - news) up 1.6 percent and Spain's Banco Santander up 2 percent. Italian insurer Generali surged 6.5 percent after reporting forecast-beating operating results. Telecom shares also featured among the biggest gainers on Thursday, with France Telecom (Other OTC: FNCTF - news) adding 2.4 percent, boosted by an upbeat note from Morgan Stanley (Xetra: 885836 - news) analysts.