U.S. Markets

U.S. stocks rallied on Thursday as stronger than expected initial jobless claims data and an easing of oil prices after reports of a possible peace deal in Libya buoyed sentiment.

The S&P 500 Index gained 22.53 points, or 1.72 percent, to trade at 1,330.97. The Dow Jones Industrial Average advanced 191.40 points, or 1.59 percent, to trade at 12,258.20. The Nasdaq Composite Index surged 1.84 percent.

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The applications for jobless benefits in the U.S. fell unexpectedly last week to reach the lowest level since May 2008, indicating an improving labor market.

Initial jobless claims in the US decreased by 20,000 to 368,000 compared with the revised figure of 388,000 in the previous week, while markets had expected the jobless claims to rise 400,000 in the week. Also, the seasonally adjusted four-week moving average of initial claims, considered as a more accurate measure of employment trends than the weekly number, decreased by 12,750 to 401,250

The weekly jobless claims data comes a day ahead of the government's monthly nonfarm payrolls report, which is the most closely-watched economic data pertaining to the jobs market and a key gauge for the direction and pace of the economic recovery.

The Institute for Supply Management's non-manufacturing index rose to 59.7 in February compared to 59.40 in January.

On the corporate front, Big Lots Inc. (NYSE:BIG) shares gained 3.61 percent as its fourth quarter profit and first quarter guidance beat estimates.

Shares of Zumiez Inc. (NASDAQ:ZUMZ) surged.5.47 percent as its February same-store sales climbed 12.8 percent against analysts’ estimation of 4.2 percent.

Crude oil futures declined 0.28 percent to $101.62/barrel after reports of a possible peace deal in Libya, gold futures declined 0.01 percent.The euro declined 0.08 percent to 1.3958 against the dollar and the yen gained 0.10 percent against the greenback.

European Markets

European stock markets ended higher on Thursday as better-than- estimated corporate earnings and upbeat U.S. jobs data buoyed sentiment.

The Stoxx Europe 600 Index rose 0.3 percent to 283.55. DAX30 advanced 44.84 points or 0.62 percent to 7,225.96, CAC 40 gained 26.44 points or 0.66 percent 4,060.76 and the FTSE 100 advanced 90.20 points or 1.52 percent to 6,005.09.

The European Central Bank (ECB) held the benchmark rate at a record low of 1 percent for the 23rd consecutive month. The Governing Council of the ECB decided that the interest rate on the main refinancing operations and the interest rates on the marginal lending facility and the deposit facility will remain unchanged at 1.00%, 1.75% and 0.25% respectively.

Adecco gained 5.4 percent to 65 Swiss francs as the company reported fourth-quarter net income of 141 million euros against analysts’ estimation of 115 million euros.

Anheuser-Busch InBev shares gained 2.34 percent as the company reported fourth quarter earnings of 2.8 billion euros against analysts’ expectations of 2.4 billion euros.

Alcatel-Lucent shares surged 6.41 percent on rumors of a potential bid from an unidentified Chinese company. The company stock was upgraded to “buy” rating at Barclays.

Airline sector shares gained as oil prices eased. Deutsche Lufthansa AG gained 2.73 percent and Air France-KLM advanced 1.32 percent.

Asian Markets

Most Asian stock markets ended higher on Thursday, helped by upbeat U.S. jobs data and an easing of oil prices after reports of a possible peace deal in Libya.

Tokyo shares advanced, led by gains from exporters amid optimism over U.S economic recovery. Japanese benchmark index Nikkei gained 0.89 percent or 93.64 points to 10,586.02. Hitachi advanced 1.01 percent to 497 yen and Honda Motor gained 0.85 percent to 3,550 yen, while Advantest gained 1.51 percent to 1,673 yen after JP Morgan raised its recommendation on the semiconductor industry.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index advanced 73.76 points or 0.32 percent to 23,122.42, led by gains from financial sector stocks. Industrial and Commercial Bank of China gained 1 percent as the bank raised its first quarter outlook. Cathay Pacific Airways gained 2.24 percent as oil prices eased.

Chinese Shanghai composite declined 0.34 percent or 9.98 points to 2,903.83. Air China Ltd. declined 1.798 percent and China Southern Airlines fell 2.07 percent, while China Merchants Bank Co. surged 4.15 percent.

South Korean shares surged, following better-than-expected industrial production data. Benchmark Seoul composite gained 42.42 points or 2.20 percent to 1,970.66. Kia Motors surged 6.63 percent and Hyundai Motor gained 2.79 percent, while Hynix Semiconductor advanced 3.26 percent after JP Morgan raised its recommendation on the semiconductor industry.

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