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22.12.2011 18:28

European stocks close:

European stocks advanced, extending this week’s gains, after U.S. jobless claims unexpectedly fell last week to the lowest since April 2008, indicating the recovery in the world’s largest economy is on track.

U.S. jobless claims unexpectedly dropped last week to the lowest since April 2008, a sign that the U.S. labor market is strengthening. Jobless claims fell by 4,000 to 364,000 in the week ended Dec. 17, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. The median forecast of 45 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News projected an increase to 380,000.

Another report showed American consumer confidence rose more than forecast in December, to a six-month high. The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan final index of consumer sentiment climbed to 69.9 from 64.1 at the end of November. The median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey called for 68 after a preliminary reading of 67.7.

In the U.K., economic growth accelerated more than previously estimated in the third quarter in an increase that the Bank of England says is unlikely to be repeated as the euro- area debt crisis curbs bank lending and dents confidence. Gross domestic product rose 0.6 percent from the previous quarter, faster than the 0.5 percent previously estimated, the Office for National Statistics said today in London.

National benchmark indexes climbed in 15 of the 18 western- European (SXXP) stock markets. The U.K.’s FTSE 100 Index rose 1.3 percent, Germany’s DAX advanced 1.1 percent and France’s CAC 40 gained 1.4 percent.

IAG advanced 3.3 percent to 149.9 pence after agreeing to buy Lufthansa’s BMI unit in the U.K. for 172.5 million pounds ($270.5 million), fending off a counterbid from Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. IAG said the acquisition will boost its operating profit by 100 million euros in 2015. Lufthansa added 1.9 percent to 9.20 euros.

Deutsche Bank, Germany’s largest lender, rose 3.2 percent to 29.29 euros. BNP Paribas, France’s biggest, added 3.4 percent to 30.24 euros. A gauge of banks was the best performer among the 19 industry groups on the Stoxx 600, gaining 2 percent.

BHP Billiton Ltd, the world’s largest mining company, increased 1.9 percent to 1,870 pence as copper climbed on the London Metal Exchange.

Stagecoach, the operator of Britain’s biggest rail-commuter franchise, retreated 3.4 percent to 260.9 pence after the shares were downgraded to “underweight” from “overweight” at JPMorgan by equity analyst David Pitura, who set the six-month target price at 280 pence.

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