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European stocks gain, euro jumps on Italy bond auction


Europe's main stock markets rose on Thursday and the euro rallied above $1.31, as traders seized on news of a successful Italy bond auction and a strong drop in new US unemployment claims.

London's FTSE 100 index of top companies increased 0.30 percent to 6,406.34 points, Frankfurt's DAX 30 added 0.36 percent to 7,838.46 points and in Paris the CAC 40 won 0.52 percent to reach 3,763.21 points.

Milan's FTSE Mib index meanwhile advanced 0.31 percent to 15,978.18 points, but Madrid's IBEX 35 was down 0.2 percent to 8,119.9 points.

In foreign exchange deals, the European single currency spiked as high as $1.3134 -- which was the highest point since March 8. It later stood at $1.3100, up from $1.3080 in New York late on Wednesday.

Italy's borrowing costs dipped in a bond auction that raised 7.17 billion euros ($9.38 billion) but fell just short of the maximum target amount, amid ongoing deadlock over a new government.

The Treasury sold 4.0 billion euros in three-year bonds, with the rate falling to 2.29 percent from 2.48 percent in a similar sale on March 13.

It also raised 1.67 billion euros in 15-year bonds -- below its maximum target amount of 2.0 billion euros -- with the borrowing rate at 4.68 percent against 4.9 percent in the auction last month.

"Sentiment improved in European markets after Italy, a country gripped with a myriad of political, economic and social uncertainties, managed to sell bonds close to the top of its target range," said ETX Capital trader Ishaq Siddiqi.

"Demand was respectable, the auction went smoothly and though yields were slightly higher, investors have welcomed this robust appetite for Italian government paper."

He added: "It could be said investors are not pricing in the full effect of the political impasse in the country but continue to demonstrate their faith in policymakers and backstops such as the European Central Bank's bond buying programme."

Elsewhere on Thursday, gold prices eased to $1,555.75 per ounce on the London Bullion Market, from $1,577.25 late on Wednesday.

Early on European markets were boosted by another record performance on Wall Street, then the strongest drop in new US unemployment claims in four months helped sustain the forward momentum.

Initial jobless claims, an indicator of the pace of layoffs and a keenly watched barometer of the health of the world's biggest economy, dropped 11 percent to a seasonally adjusted 346,000 in the week ending April 6, according to US Labor Department data.

But Wall Street open mixed on Thursday, with a disappointing report on personal computer sales pushing tech stocks lower.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average added 0.08 percent at 14,813.84 points.

The broad-based S&P 500 edged up 0.09 percent to 1,589.15 points, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index dipped 0.10 percent to 3,293.84 points.

Back in London, British high street retailer Marks & Spencer saw its share price rally to the top of the FTSE 100 following upbeat earnings news.

Shares jumped 3.5 percent to 397.30 pence in afternoon trading.

M&S announced that sales rose in the fourth quarter of its financial year, despite challenging conditions on the high street.

Group sales increased 3.1 percent in the 13 weeks to March 30, compared with the equivalent period of the company's previous fiscal year.

M&S added that British like-for-like sales, stripping out the impact of new floor space, climbed 0.6 percent in the same period. General merchandise sales sank 3.8 percent but food sales grew by 4.0 percent.

Earlier in Asia, markets mostly rose further after impressive US gains, while Tokyo hit fresh multi-year highs as the dollar approached the 100 yen mark.

While buying sentiment remains positive, dealers are keeping an eye on the stand-off on the Korean peninsula as the North, expected to fire a missile within the next few days, ratchets up its combative rhetoric.

Tokyo rose 1.96 percent, while Seoul added 0.73 percent and Sydney was 0.79 percent higher.

Hong Kong stocks advanced 0.30 percent, but Shanghai eased 0.30 percent lower to 2,219.55 points.