European stocks rise before central bank decisions

Europe's main stock markets rose on Thursday as traders looked ahead to monetary policy decisions due from the ECB and Bank of England that might result in more British stimulus.

London's FTSE 100 index of leading companies gained 0.44 percent to 6,455.96 points approaching midday in the British capital, while Frankfurt's DAX 30 climbed 0.33 percent to 7,945.40 points and in Paris the CAC 40 advanced 0.56 percent to 3,794.88.

The euro increased to $1.3036 from $1.2971 late on Wednesday in New York, while the British pound fell against the European single currency and dollar.

Gold prices rose to $1,582.12 an ounce on the London Bullion Market from $1,574 on Wednesday.

"The focus will be on European central banks today with the Bank of England and the European Central Bank due to make their policy decisions," said Angus Campbell, head of market analysis at Capital Spreads trading group.

"It’s the central banks around the world that have been propping global equity markets up and driving their rally so investors are almost happy and expect to see further gains if further easing comes their way."

Analysts believe there is a strong chance that the Bank of England will announce plans to pump out more new cash to help kick-start Britain's economy and prevent it falling into a third recession since the start of the financial crisis.

BoE policymakers holding a regular monthly meeting will also vote on whether to change the level of its main interest rate, which has remained at a record-low 0.5 percent for four years.

In Frankfurt, the ECB is set to keep its key interest rates steady, despite concerns about the destabilising effects for the euro area of political gridlock in Italy, traders said.

ECB chief Mario Draghi believes that with interest rates currently at a record low of 0.75 percent, an unprecedented amount of liquidity pumped into banks and a key bond-purchase programme in place, the central bank has already done its utmost to help resolve the long-running crisis.

In company news, shares in Aggreko, a supplier of temporary power solutions, surged 14.28 percent to 2,009 pence after it announced a rise in annual pre-tax profits thanks to income earned on the back of last year's London Olympics.

Carrefour climbed 2.81 percent to 21.98 euros after the French supermarket giant said its 2012 net profit was three times bigger than the previous year owing mainly to asset sales.

On the downside in London, Aviva shares slumped 12.81 percent to 313.7 pence, as the British insurer slashed its shareholder dividend after revealing that it tumbled into a net loss last year.

The stock had earlier dived as low as 295 pence.

Aviva suffered a loss after taxes of £3.0 billion ($4.5 billion, 3.5 billion euros) in 2012, mainly owing to a massive writedown following the sale of its US business. That contrasted with a net profit of £60 million in 2011.