Investing.com - European stocks remained higher on Thursday, as speculation that the European Central Bank will soon cut interest rates supported sentiment ahead of the bank's monthly meeting later in the day.
During European afternoon trade, the EURO STOXX 50 climbed 0.55%, France's CAC 40 gained 0.57%, while Germany's DAX 30 rose 0.27%.
The ECB was widely expected to leave rates on hold at 0.75%, but concerns over the economic outlook for the region fuelled speculation over the prospect of future rate cuts.
Data on Wednesday confirmed that the euro zone economy contracted by 0.6% in the fourth quarter, in line with preliminary estimates and economists' forecasts.
Sentiment was also supported by Wednesday's upbeat ADP nonfarm payrolls data, which fuelled optimism over a recovery in the U.S. labor market.
In the financial sector, German lenders Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank slid 0.12% and 0.28%, while France's Societe Generale dropped 0.98%.
Spanish lenders remained higher on the other hand, as Banco Santander and BBVA advanced 0.69% and 0.81% respectively, after Madrid sold EUR2.435 billion worth of ten-year government bonds at an average yield of 4.917% earlier in the day, down from 5.202% at a previous auction.
Elsewhere, Carrefour surged 4.04% after saying annual recurring operating income fell 2.6% to EUR2.14 billion, beating the EUR2.07 billion average estimate.
In London, FTSE 100 advanced 0.47%, as investors eyed the outcome of the Bank of England's policy meeting.
Aggreko continued to lead gains, soaring 15.16%, after the temporary power generator reported an 11% rise in profits following last year's GBP60 million contract to supply the London Olympics.
Mining stocks also trended higher, as BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto rallied 0.81% and 2.32%, while copper producer Kazakhmys advanced 0.68%.
Meanwhile, financial stocks were mixed, as shares in HSBC Holdings jumped 1.15% and Barclays surged 2.32%, while the Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking retreated 0.53% and 1.51% respectively.
On the downside, Aviva saw shares dive 12.65%, extending earlier losses, as the insurance company said it won't pay bonuses to its executive directors or award pay rises for 2013 after cutting its second-half dividend by 44%.
In the U.S., equity markets pointed to a higher open. The Dow Jones Industrial Average futures pointed to a 0.20% rise, S&P 500 futures signaled a 0.16% gain, while the Nasdaq 100 futures indicated a 0.27% increase.
Also Thursday, official data showed that German factory orders dropped 1.9% in January, confounding expectations for a 0.5% increase.
Later in the day, the U.S. was to publish the weekly government report on initial jobless claims and official data on the trade balance.
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