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European Markets Finish Higher Despite Early Jitters

The European markets ended Thursday's session with gains. Investors were in a cautious mood ahead of a crucial vote on healthcare reform in the U.S. Congress. After a weak start, the markets inched into positive territory later in the morning and advanced further in the afternoon. The afternoon gains coincided with an upward move on Wall Street that brought the U.S. markets firmly into positive territory.

The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote on the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare later today. The GOP's ability to pass the healthcare bill is seen as crucial to efforts to address President Donald Trump's other priorities, including tax reform and infrastructure spending.

Investors continue to monitor the latest developments in London after yesterday's terror attack around the Houses of Parliament. However, the attack has had little impact on the markets.

Euro area economic recovery is steadily firming and the trend is likely to continue with growth firming and broadening going ahead, the European Central Bank said Thursday.

"The economic recovery in the euro area is steadily firming," the central bank said in its latest Economic Bulletin.

"Incoming data, notably survey results, have increased the Governing Council's confidence that the ongoing economic expansion will continue to firm and broaden."

Overall, surveys point to a robust growth momentum in the first quarter of 2017, the bank said.

The pan-European Stoxx Europe 600 index advanced 0.80 percent. The Euro Stoxx 50 index of eurozone blue chip stocks increased 0.91 percent, while the Stoxx Europe 50 index, which includes some major U.K. companies, added 0.90 percent.

The DAX of Germany climbed 1.14 percent and the CAC 40 of France rose 0.76 percent. The FTSE 100 of the U.K. gained 0.22 percent and the SMI of Switzerland finished higher by percent.

In Frankfurt, BASF finished higher by 1.15 percent after Stahl agreed to acquire its leather chemicals business.

In London, IG Group sank 4.60 percent after the online trading company reported a 3.8 percent fall in quarterly revenue.

Home improvement retailer Kingfisher fell 1.62 percent, a day after warning of an uncertain economic outlook because of Brexit and the French presidential elections.

Tesco, Britain's largest supermarket, rose 2.02 percent after reportedly removing Heineken beers and ciders from its shelves over a Brexit row with manufacturers.

Next soared 8.08 percent. The fashion retailer maintained its profit forecast after reporting its first decline in annual profits for eight years.

Digital security firm Gemalto tumbled 3.82 percent in Amsterdam to extend Wednesday's losses on a brokerage downgrade.

Germany's consumer sentiment index is set to weaken in April, survey data from the market research group GfK showed Thursday. The forward-looking consumer confidence index dropped to 9.8 in April from 10.0 in March. The indicator was forecast to remain unchanged at 10.0.

French manufacturing sentiment deteriorated in March after reaching its highest level in more than five years in February, monthly survey data from the statistical office Insee showed Thursday. The manufacturing confidence index fell to 104 in March, while it was forecast to remain unchanged at 107. Nonetheless, the indicator stood above its long-term average of 100.

UK retail sales increased for the first time in four months in February despite high inflation squeezing purchasing power of consumers.

The retail sales volume grew 1.4 percent month-on-month in February, reversing a 0.5 percent fall in January, the Office for National Statistics said Thursday. This was the first increase in four months and exceed the expected growth of 0.4 percent.

A report released by the Labor Department on Thursday showed an unexpected increase in first-time claims for U.S. unemployment benefits in the week ended March 18th. The report said initial jobless claims climbed to 258,000, an increase of 15,000 from the previous week's revised level of 243,000.

The increase surprised economists, who had expected jobless claims to edge down to 240,000 from the 241,000 originally reported for the previous week.

New home sales in the U.S. saw a substantial increase in the month of February, the Commerce Department revealed in a report on Thursday, with sales jumping to their highest level in seven months. The report said new home sales spiked by 6.1 percent to an annual rate of 592,000 in February after surging up by 5.3 percent to a revised 558,000 in January.

Economists had expected new home sales to climb to a rate of 565,000 in February from the 555,000 originally reported for the previous month.

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