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European Markets Finish Mostly Lower In Lackluster Trade

The majority of the European markets ended Friday's session with small losses. The markets were locked in a narrow sideways trend throughout the session. Investors were reluctant to make any major moves ahead of a crucial vote on U.S. healthcare reform.

The vote was expected to take place Thursday evening, but House Republican leaders delayed a vote on the bill amid indications of a lack of support. However, President Donald Trump has demanded that the vote go forward today.

If a vote on the replacement of Obamacare fails, it could cast doubt on Trump's ability to deliver on promises of increased infrastructure spending, tax cuts and deregulation.

The pan-European Stoxx Europe 600 index weakened by 0.20 percent. The Euro Stoxx 50 index of eurozone blue chip stocks decreased 0.23 percent, while the Stoxx Europe 50 index, which includes some major U.K. companies, lost 0.31 percent.

The DAX of Germany climbed 0.20 percent, but the CAC 40 of France fell 0.24 percent. The FTSE 100 of the U.K. declined 0.05 percent and the SMI of Switzerland finished lower by 0.17 percent.

In Frankfurt, Merck KgaA climbed 1.47 percent after the U.S. FDA approved BAVENCIO or avelumab Injection 20 mg/mL, for intravenous use, for the treatment of adults and pediatric patients 12 years and older with metastatic Merkel cell carcinoma.

RWE increased 1.84 percent and E.ON added 1.40 percent.

In Paris, Bollore rose 0.71 percent as the transportation company offered Blue Solutions' shareholders an option to sell their shares at a price of EUR 17 per share.

In London, engineering firm Smiths Group advanced 2.89 percent after its first-half results beat forecasts.

Telecom Italia gained 0.07 percent in Milan after the company swung back to profit in 2016 from a net loss of 70 million euros the previous year.

Eurozone private sector activity expanded at the fastest pace in almost six years in March, amid robust new orders and employment growth in both manufacturing and service sectors. The composite output index rose unexpectedly to 56.7 from 56.0 in February, flash data from the purchasing managers' survey by IHS Markit showed Friday. The score was forecast to fall slightly to 55.8.

Germany registered the fastest rate of private sector output growth in nearly six years at the end of the first quarter of 2017, flash survey results from IHS Markit showed Friday. The composite output index rose for the second straight month in March, to 57.0 from 56.1 in February. This was the highest score since May 2011.

France's economic growth doubled as estimated in the fourth quarter, final data from the statistical office Insee showed Friday. Gross domestic product grew 0.4 percent sequentially, following third quarter's 0.2 percent expansion. The estimates were left unrevised.

France's private sector expanded at the fastest pace in nearly six years in March, flash data from IHS Markit showed Friday. The flash composite output index rose to 57.6 in March from 55.9 in February. The latest figure pointed to the sharpest rate of growth since May 2011.

UK mortgage approvals for house purchases fell to a three month low in February, British Bankers' Association said Friday. The number of mortgages approved for house purchases fell to 42,613 in February from 44,142 in January. This was the lowest since November. The expected level for February was 44,900.

British households perceived that the value of their homes increased again in March, survey figures from IHS Markit and Knight Frank showed Friday. The Knight Frank/Markit House Price Sentiment Index, or HPSI, came in at 57.5 in March, the same reading as in February.

Reflecting a continued increase in demand for commercial aircraft and parts, the Commerce Department released a report on Friday showing that new orders for U.S. manufactured durable goods shot up by more than anticipated in the month of February.

The report said durable goods orders jumped by 1.7 percent in February after surging up by a revised 2.3 percent in January. Economists had expected orders to climb by 1.2 percent compared to the 2.0 percent spike that had been reported for the previous month.

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