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European Markets Finish Mostly Higher Ahead Of U.S. Jobs Report

Markets in Europe got off to a positive start Thursday and climbed during the first few hours of trade, before paring their early gains. The majority of the markets ended the day with modest gains, after struggling during the previous two sessions.

Traders remain in a cautious mood ahead of tomorrow's U.S. jobs report. Lingering uncertainty about the final Republican tax reform bill is also weighed on investor sentiment, as well as Brexit concerns.

The U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May is likely to put forth a fresh offer to resolve Irish border dispute, as Brexit negotiator Michael Barnier issued a deadline to potential deal.

Barnier insisted that diplomats of the 27 member states have to sign the deal by Friday, if talks must move onto trade at a summit next week.

The pan-European Stoxx Europe 600 index advanced 0.02 percent. The Euro Stoxx 50 index of eurozone blue chip stocks increased 0.34 percent, while the Stoxx Europe 50 index, which includes some major U.K. companies, lost 0.13 percent.

The DAX of Germany climbed 0.36 percent and the CAC 40 of France rose 0.18 percent. The FTSE 100 of the U.K. declined 0.37 percent and the SMI of Switzerland finished lower by 0.42 percent.

In Frankfurt, energy firm Uniper lost 1.98 percent despite confirming its earnings outlook for the current year and promising higher dividend next year.

Furniture retailer Steinhoff sank 45.34 percent to extend Wednesday's slump, hit by news of the launch of an investigation into accounting irregularities.

In Paris, telecommunications firm Orange rallied 2.32 percent. The company targets growth in adjusted EBITDA of around 2 percent in 2017, followed by an acceleration of the growth rate in 2018 and continued growth in 2019 and 2020.

Carrefour declined 2.91 percent after Bernstein downgraded its rating on the stock to "Underperform" from "Market Perform."

In London, RM Plc jumped 15.37 percent after the educational ICT and resources group said it expects results for the financial year ended November 30, 2017 to be ahead of expectations.

Ladbrokes Coral shares surged 28.86 percent after bookmaker GVC Holdings offered to buy the gambling giant for £3.9 billion ($5.2 billion).

William Hill leaped 8.10 percent. The company has reached an agreement with Scientific Games Corp. (SGMS) to unconditionally support Scientific Games' proposed acquisition of NYX. Following the agreement all the parties have withdrawn from all litigation in the US and UK.

The euro area economy expanded, as initially estimated, in the third quarter largely on investment and exports, Eurostat reported Thursday. Gross domestic product grew 0.6 percent sequentially, slightly slower than the 0.7 percent expansion seen in the second quarter. The rate came in line with the estimate released on November 14.

Germany's industrial production dropped unexpectedly in October driven by weakness across major sectors except energy.

Industrial production fell 1.4 percent month-on-month in October, following a revised 0.9 percent drop in September, data from Destatis showed Thursday. This was the second straight decline in output. Production was forecast to grow 0.9 percent.

The French trade gap widened in October from a month earlier, the customs office reported Thursday. The trade deficit rose to EUR 5.0 billion in October from EUR 4.6 billion in September. The deficit was forecast to increase to 4.7 billion.

The French current account gap narrowed in October from a month earlier, data from the Bank of France showed Thursday. The current account deficit fell to EUR 2.2 billion in October from EUR 3.3 billion in September.

UK house prices increased more than expected in November, data published by the mortgage lender Halifax and IHS Markit showed Thursday.

On a monthly basis, house prices increased 0.5 percent, faster than the 0.3 percent rise posted in October. This was the fifth consecutive increase. Prices were forecast to grow marginally by 0.2 percent.

A day ahead of the release of the closely watched monthly jobs report, the Labor Department released a report on Thursday unexpectedly showing a modest decrease in first-time claims for U.S. unemployment benefits in the week ended December 2nd.

The report said initial jobless claims edged down to 236,000, a decrease of 2,000 from the previous week's unrevised level of 238,000. The drop surprised economists, who had expected jobless claims to inch up to 240,000.

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