European stocks hold steady amid mixed economic data

European stock markets were mixed on Thursday in the wake of recent strong gains as traders reacted to news of soaring Spanish unemployment and surprising British growth figures, while earnings updates from major pharmaceuticals were also in focus.

Indices had enjoyed large gains during the previous two days on growing expectations of an interest rate cut by the European Central Bank.

London's FTSE 100 index of leading companies dipped 0.07 percent to stand at 6,427.19 points in afternoon deals on Thursday.

Frankfurt's DAX 30 grew 0.18 percent to 7,773.21 points and in Paris the CAC 40 sank 0.38 percent to 3,828.30 points.

Madrid's IBEX 35 slid by 1.21 percent to 8,287.9 points however after official data showed Spain's unemployment rate soared to a new record of 27.16 percent of the workforce in the first quarter of 2013 and the number of those without jobs surpassed six million.

In foreign exchange trade, the euro climbed to $1.3075 from $1.3014 late on Wednesday in New York. The dollar fell to 99.19 yen compared to 99.53 on Wednesday.

Sterling shot up to $1.5471 from $1.5264 and was higher also versus the euro.

Official data Thursday showed that Britain avoided falling into a third recession since the 2008 global financial crisis after its economy grew by a better-than-expected 0.3 percent in the first quarter compared with the final three months of last year.

The GDP data "is certainly reason for celebration for the broader economy. But market participants are reminding investors of how what really matters for equities is not necessarily an increase in output but the availability of liquidity," said Spreadex trader David White.

On the London Bullion Market, gold climbed to $1,446.50 an ounce from $1,428.50 Wednesday.

In company news, shares in AstraZeneca retreated 2.52 percent to 3,304.5 pence in London after the Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical company said its net profit tumbled 38 percent in the first quarter of the year to $1.0 billion (767 million euros) after losing market exclusivity for some of its key drugs.

In Frankfurt, Bayer shed 0.81 percent to 80.00 euros even though the German chemicals and pharmaceuticals giant said that it "got off to a good start" in 2013 with profits rising 11.5 percent on the back of new pharmaceutical products.

Across in Madrid, Santander slumped 3.7 percent to 5.42 euros after the Spanish bank said net profits tumbled 26 percent in the first quarter.

On Wall Street, shares opened higher on solid employment numbers with the Dow Jones Industrial Average up 0.11 percent and the techy-heavy Nasdaq gaining 0.32 percent.

In a fresh sign of a slowly improving job market, new claims for US unemployment benefits fell last week to the lowest level since mid-March, the government reported before markets opened Thursday.

Asian stock markets meanwhile closed mostly higher on Thursday in quiet trade.

With few catalysts driving action, eyes are moving to Friday's policy decision by the Bank of Japan to see if it adds to the huge stimulus measures unveiled earlier this month as part of a drive to kickstart the economy.

Tokyo added 0.60 percent, while Seoul gained 0.84 percent and Taipei finished flat. Sydney was closed for a public holiday.