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European Markets Trade Mixed

The European markets are trading mixed on Thursday, amid concerns about the UK's credit rating. The Asian markets ended mixed as new signs emerged of slowing growth in China. The U.S. index futures are slightly higher ahead of the jobless claims and manufacturing survey results due to be released later in the day.

Fitch Ratings downgraded the UK's credit rating outlook to 'negative' from 'stable', citing the economy's vulnerability to adverse economic shocks due to high indebtedness and weak economic outlook.

The revision reflects "the very limited fiscal space to absorb further adverse economic shocks in light of such elevated debt levels and a potentially weaker than currently forecast economic recovery," the agency said.

The Euro Stoxx 50 index of eurozone bluechip stocks is adding 0.07 percent, while the Stoxx Europe 50 index, which includes some major U.K. companies, is sliding 0.13 percent.

The German DAX is adding 0.25 percent and Switzerland's SMI is up 0.15 percent. The French CAC 40 is losing 0.04 percent while the UK's FTSE 100 is falling 0.12 percent.

In Frankfurt, K+S is leading the gainers by adding 5.4 percent after it achieved the second-best result in the company's history. The specialty fertilizer firm reported a near 23 percent increase in fourth-quarter profit and lifted its dividend 30 percent.

HeidelbergCement is climbing over 3 percent. The company reported higher annual profit and lifted dividend. The firm also expects higher profit in 2012 and increased the savings target from its efficiency improvement program.

The European Automobile Manufacturers' Association said new car registrations dipped 9.7 percent in February from a year ago, after easing 7.1 percent in January. BMW and Daimler are up about 0.7 percent while Volkswagen is adding 0.4 percent. In Paris, Renault is losing 1.4 percent and Peugeot is sliding 0.8 percent.

Porsche is down about 1 percent. The carmaker incurred a hefty charge in 2011.

Lufthansa is falling 1.7 percent after stating that profit this year could be hurt again by weak economy and high fuel costs.

Bayer is down 0.9 percent. JPMorgan cut the stock to "Neutral" from "Overweight."

Deutsche Bank is falling 0.4 percent while Commerzbank is unchanged.

Aixtron is surging 9.3 percent. Deutsche Bank raised the stock to "Buy" from "Hold."

In Paris, STMicroelectronics is climbing 3.8 percent and ArcelorMittal is advancing 2.1 percent.

Schneider Electric and Axa are notably higher.

BNP Paribas and Credit Agricole are moderately up, while Societe Generale is in negative territory.

Pernod-Ricard is declining 2.7 percent and Alcatel Lucent is falling 1.7 percent.

In London, Tesco is falling 1.4 percent. The company said Richard Brasher, chief executive officer of its UK operations, will step down from the board immediately and would leave the company in July, close on the heels of dismal Christmas and New Year sales performance by the supermarket chain and a weak outlook provided in January. Next is gaining 2 percent.

Home Retail said its second-half like-for-like sales fell 8.7 percent at Argos and declined 3.7 percent at Homebase. However, the company expects benchmark profit before tax for the year in-line with current market expectations. The stock is up 0.8 percent.

Hennes and Mauritz is advancing 1.9 percent in Stockholm. The apparel retailer reported growth in sales for the first quarter.

HSBC reinitiated Unicredit with a "Neutral" rating. The stock is down 0.5 percent in Milan.

In economic news, the Swiss National Bank decided to maintain its three-month Libor rate close to zero as expected and said it would continue to enforce the minimum exchange rate of 1.20 Swiss francs per euro.

Eurostat said the number of employed persons in Eurozone fell 0.2 percent sequentially in the fourth quarter, the same rate of decline as seen in the third quarter. Hourly labor costs rose 2.8 percent year-on-year in the quarter, picking up from the 2.6 percent increase in the third quarter, the statistical office said.

In China, data from the Commerce Ministry showed that the nation attracted $7.7 billion in foreign direct investment in February, down 0.9 percent from last year. This marked the fourth consecutive fall in investment inflows. In January, FDI fell 0.3 percent year-on-year to $9.997 billion. Shanghai Composite Index lost 0.73 percent.

Among other markets in Asia/Pacific, Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.2 percent and Japan's Nikkei 225 climbed 0.72 percent. Australia's All Ordinaries slid 0.20 percent.

In the U.S., futures point to a higher open on Wall Street. In the previous session, afetr a substantial rally on Tuesday, the major averages bounced back and forth across the unchanged line, eventually ending the session mixed. While the S&P 500 edged down 0.1 percent, the Dow rose 0.1 percent and the Nasdaq crept up less than 0.1 percent.

In the commodity space, crude for April delivery is adding $0.14 to $105.57 per barrel and gold is rising $4.3 to $1647.2 a troy ounce.

by RTT Staff Writer

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