U.S. Markets

U.S. stocks ended higher on Wednesday as positive speculation about US private sector jobs growth and deal news buoyed sentiment.

The Dow Jones industrial average gained 71.60 points, or 0.58 percent, to 12,350.61. The Standard & Poor's 500 advanced 8.82 points, or 0.67 percent, to 1,328.26. The Nasdaq Composite rose 19.90 points, or 0.72 percent, to 2,776.79.

Private sector employment in the US rose in March, indicating improved labor conditions. U.S. nonfarm employment increased by 201,000 in March compared with downwardly revised figure of 208,000 jobs in February, while markets had expected private sector payrolls to rise by 210,000 in the month.

Payrolls in the services sector rose 164,000 in March, marking a gain for fifteen straight months. Manufacturing jobs increased 37,000, its sixth consecutive monthly gain. However, construction sector’s payroll additions remained weak, dropping by 5,000 to in March, taking the total employment reduction in the sector to 2,126,000 since January 2007.

On the corporate front, shares of AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T) gained 2.2 percent to $30.71 after its chief executive Randall Stephenson said he expects some divestitures of customers and wireless spectrum as the company pursues a $US39 billion buyout of T-Mobile USA.

Cephalon Inc. (NASDAQ:CEPH) stock jumped 28.41 percent to $75.44 as Valeant Pharmaceuticals International, Inc. (VRX) seeks to take over Cephalon for about $5.7 billion or $73 per share in cash, after Valeant's earlier proposals were rejected.

U.S. Futures

Futures on the S&P 500 are up 0.10 percent, futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average are up 0.15 percent and Nasdaq100 futures are up 0.14 percent.

The euro gained 0.65 percent to 1.4219 against the dollar and the yen gained 0.11 percent. Crude oil futures advanced 1.03 percent to $105.34 a barrel and gold futures gained 0.47 percent.

European Markets

European stock markets wavered in early trade on Thursday as investors awaited Irish bank stress tests results, while H&M declined after reporting a decline in profit.

The Stoxx Europe 600 Index declined 0.27 percent to 277.81. DAX30 advanced 8.76 points or 0.12 percent to 7,065.91 and FTSE 100 advanced 7.50 points or 0.13 percent to 5,955.80, while CAC 40 declined 5.44 points or 0.14 percent 4,019.00.

Hennes & Mauritz AB shares plunged 4.16 percent after the company said its first quarter net profit declined 30 percent to $415.4 million.

Among financials, Intesa Sanpaolo SpA declined 2.93 percent to 2.115 euros and UniCredit SpA declined 1.66 percent to 1.77 euros, while Societe Generale declined 2.02 percent to 46.52 euros.

Asian Markets

Most Asian stocks ended higher on Thursday, following in Wall Street overnight after ADP National Employment report showed that the private sector employment rose in March.

Japanese stocks gained for the second day on hopes that economic recovery in the United States will boost exporters. Benchmark Nikkei advanced 0.48 percent or 46.31 points to 9,755.10.

Shares of Tokyo Electric Power, Japan's biggest utility and operator of the Fukushima nuclear-power plant, jumped as much as 12 percent in intraday trade on speculation that someone had bought 2.5 percent of the company's outstanding stock, but declined 1.89 percent at the end of the trading session.

Advantest Corp. gained 3.81 percent to 1,498 yen and Dainippon Sumitomo Pharma Co. surged 6.1 percent to 775 yen after raising its profit outlook.

Among automakers, Nissan Motor advanced 0.95 percent to 738 yen and Toyota Motor gained 0.6 percent to 3,350 yen, while Honda Motor declined 0.16 percent to 3,125 yen.

Hong Kong shares ended higher, led by gains from banking and property stocks. Benchmark Hang Seng index gained 76.09 points or 0.32 percent to 23,527.52, while Chinese Shanghai composite fell 0.88 percent or 25.88 points to 2,929.89.

Bank of Communications gained 2.88 percent to HK$8.56 after the bank said its full year year profit rose 30 percent to 39 billion yuan, while analysts expected a net profit of 38 billion yuan. China Resources Land Ltd. gained 3.11 percent and Techtronic Industries Co. advanced 3.64 percent.

South Korean shares ended higher on Thursday as gains from banking sector offset declines in refiners. Seoul composite advanced 15.32 points or 0.73 percent to 2,106.70. KB Financial Group advanced 1.2 percent and Shinhan Financial Group gained 2.25 percent.