Europe Shares Mostly Higher Ahead Of ECB Meeting

Most European stock markets rose on Thursday, with drug and bank in the lead, as investors await an interest rate decision from the European Central Bank due later in the day.

The Stoxx Europe 600 index (XX:SXXP) +0.68% took on 0.6% to 259.04.

Banks posted some of the biggest gains, with French Société Générale SA (FR:GLE) +3.00% up 3.1%, after beating first-quarter earnings expectations, although profit slumped 20%.

The French CAC-40 index (FR:PX1) +1.19% rallied 0.9% to 3,254.90, further buoyed by France Télécom (FR:FTE) +3.17% advancing 3.3%. The telecom firm said profit for first quarter dropped 8.1%, but maintained its financial guidance for 2012, Market Watch reported.

Shares of heavyweight drug companies Roche Holding AG (CH:ROG) +1.15% RHHBY -1.26% and Sanofi SA (FR:SAN) +1.06% SNY +0.39% rose 1.2% and 1.7%, respectively.

In the broader European market, investors were waiting for the ECB’s interest rate decision at 12.45 p.m. London time  amid growing concerns about the region’s debt crisis and recession fears. The bank is widely expected to leave its key lending rate unchanged at 1%. ECB President Mario Draghi holds his monthly news conference at 13:30 a.m. London time.

The German DAX 30 index (DX:DAX) +1.05% gained 1% to 6,774.55. BMW AG (DE:BMW) +0.48% provided support in Frankfurt, up 2.1%, as first-quarter profit rose 18%, beating expectations, helped by higher vehicle sales.

In the U.K., the FTSE 100 index (UK:UKX) +0.57% traded 0.7% higher at 5,796.24, with HSBC Holdings PLC (UK:HSBA) +1.35% HBC -0.44% up 1.3%, Lloyds Banking Group PLC (UK:LLOY) +1.12% LYG -3.30% 1.3% higher and Barclays PLC (UK:BARC) +0.49% BCS -3.76% rising 0.8%.

Smith & Nephew PLC (UK:SN) +2.81% SNN -1.63% posted the biggest gain in the British index, adding 2.7%, after it said first-quarter profit rose 3% and stuck to its full-year guidance.

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