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European Markets Climb After ECB Announcement

The European markets struggled in early trade Thursday, but turned definitively positive following today's policy decision from the European Central Bank. The ECB moved closer to exiting its massive monetary stimulus as it dropped the easing bias on asset purchases from its forward guidance, as sought by some policymakers in previous sessions, while leaving the key interest rates unchanged.

ECB President Mario Draghi said that the Governing Council's latest decision to drop the easing bias on asset purchases was taken unanimously.

Unusually vocal on global trade, Draghi said disputes must be discussed and solved in a multilateral framework, adding the warning that unilateral decisions were dangerous. The ECB Chief also noted that the immediate spillover of US import tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum are unlikely to be that big.

France's economy is forecast to grow at a slightly slower pace in the first quarter, a survey from Bank of France revealed Thursday. The central bank kept its growth forecast for the first quarter unchanged at 0.4 percent. The economy had expanded 0.6 percent in the fourth quarter.

The pan-European Stoxx Europe 600 index advanced 1.05 percent. The Euro Stoxx 50 index of eurozone blue chip stocks increased 1.06 percent, while the Stoxx Europe 50 index, which includes some major U.K. companies, added 1.13 percent.

The DAX of Germany climbed 0.90 percent and the CAC 40 of France rose 1.28 percent. The FTSE 100 of the U.K. gained 0.63 percent and the SMI of Switzerland finished higher by 1.27 percent.

In Frankfurt, Evotec soared 13.32 percent. The company has entered into exclusive negotiations with Sanofi to accelerate infectious disease research and development through a new open innovation platform.

Merck KgaA tumbled 4.14 percent. The chemicals and drugs maker reported a 6.5 percent fall in Q4 EBITDA earnings and said it expects a further decline 2018 on a currency adjusted basis.

Luxury fashion brand Hugo Boss sank 6.88 percent and media holding company Axel Springer dropped percent after unveiling their fiscal 2017 results.

In Paris, Engie, formerly called GDF Suez, jumped 3.84 percent. The natural gas and electricity supplier reported net income Group share for fiscal year 2017 of 1.4 billion euros, compared to net loss of 0.4 billion euros last year.

Supermarket giant Groupe Casino sank 3.66 percent after its full-year net profit fell to 120 million euros from last year's 2.68 billion euros.

Outdoor advertising firm JCDecaux dropped 2.98 percent after its 2017 profit fell 14 percent due to a tax charge.

Air France-KLM lost 4.51 percent after reporting passenger traffic figures for February.

In London, Insurer Aviva gained 0.99 percent after reporting a 2 percent rise in FY17 operating profit and enhancing dividend payment.

Akzo Nobel rallied 2.56 percent in Amsterdam. The paints and coatings maker reconfirmed its 2020 guidance despite rising raw material costs and adverse currency effects.

China's exports increased sharply in February ahead of the Trump administration imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, raising fears of a trade war.

Data from the General Administration of Customs showed that exports jumped 44.5 percent year-over-year in February, much bigger than the 11.0 percent rise economists had forecast.

Imports climbed 6.3 percent in February from a year ago, slower than the expected growth of 8.0 percent.

The trade surplus totaled $33.7 billion in February, in contrast to the forecast of $5.7 billion shortfall and well above January's $20.3 billion surplus.

German factory orders declined at the fastest pace in a year in January on weaker domestic as well as foreign demand. New orders in manufacturing dropped 3.9 percent month-on-month in January, reversing a revised 3 percent rise in December, figures from Destatis revealed Thursday.

This was the biggest decline since January, when orders decreased 4.8 percent. Orders were forecast to fall moderately by 1.8 percent.

A day ahead of the release of the more closely watched monthly jobs, the Labor Department released a report on Thursday showing a bigger than expected rebound in first-time claims for U.S. unemployment benefits in the week ended March 3rd.

The Labor Department said initial jobless claims climbed to 231,000, an increase of 21,000 from the previous week's unrevised level of 210,000. Economists had expected jobless claims to rise to 220,000.

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