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European stocks were little changed, paring earlier gains, after the European Central Bank kept its benchmark interest rate unchanged.
The Stoxx Europe 600 Index rose less than 0.1 percent to 337.28 at the close of trading in London after earlier gaining as much as 0.6 percent. The gauge, which fell 0.2 percent this week amid tension over Ukraine, is 0.3 percent away from a six-year high reached Feb. 25.
The ECB kept its benchmark interest rate unchanged at a record low 0.25 percent after better-than-forecast economic data eased the immediate need to cut interest rates. The Bank of England maintained its rate at an all-time low of 0.5 percent and its bond-purchase plan at 375 billion pounds.
A U.S. Labor Department report showed initial jobless claims fell by 26,000 to 323,000 in the week ended March 1. That was fewer than economists had forecast. Factory orders dropped 0.7 percent in January, missing estimates, after declining a revised 2 percent in December, according to separate data.
Benchmark indexes rose in 14 of the 18 markets in western Europe. The U.K.’s FTSE 100 gained 0.2 percent and France’s CAC 40 advanced 0.6 percent. The Swiss Market Index added 0.3 percent, while Germany’s DAX was little changed.
Aggreko climbed 3.5 percent to 1,628 pence. The world’s largest supplier of mobile-power generators said it is giving shareholders 200 million pounds in addition to its ordinary dividend. The company’s 2013 pretax profit of 338 million pounds beat the average analyst estimate for 333 million pounds.
Bouygues jumped 6.6 percent to 30.67 euros. The construction and telecommunications group offered 10.5 billion euros ($14.4 billion) in cash for SFR, a deal that would potentially create a phone carrier rivaling Orange SA. Altice SA, which put in a separate bid, values SFR at about $20 billion through a mixture of debt, cash and equity, people familiar with the matter said.
IMI Plc lost 4.3 percent to 1,481 pence. The engineering company forecast that ">Balfour Beatty Plc sank 7.4 percent to 297.6 pence for the biggest decline since April. Britain’s biggest construction company posted 2013 sales of 8.75 billion pounds, missing the 9.21 billion pounds that analysts had estimated.
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