U.S. Markets

U.S. stocks finished at fresh multi-year high on Thursday as improved corporate earnings and manufacturing data overshadowed a bigger than expected rise in the number of people applying for unemployment benefits.

The Dow Jones Industrial advanced 91.50 points, or 0.75percent, to close at 12,318.14. The S&P 500 Index gained 4.11 points, or 0.31 percent, at 1,340.43. The Nasdaq Composite Index advanced 6.02 points or 0.21 percent to 2,831.58.

Manufacturing activity in the Philadelphia area soared in February, climbing to its highest level since January 2004.The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia said that its manufacturing index jumped to 35.9 in February, from reading of 19.3 in January. Analysts expected the index to edge up only to 21.0 in February.

The overall consumer price inflation in the U.S. rose 0.4 percent in January on a seasonally adjusted basis, mainly driven by increases in energy, commodities and food prices. The core consumer prices, which exclude food and energy, rose 0.2 percent in January after increasing 0.1 percent in each of the previous two months.

The applications for jobless benefits in the U.S. rose more than expected for the week ended Feb. 12, following a drop in the past two weeks. Initial jobless claims increased by 25,000 to 410,000 compared with the revised figure of 385,000 in the previous week against market expectations of 403,000. The 4-week moving average of initial claims increased 1,750 to 417,750 from the previous week's revised average of 416,000.

On the corporate front, Apple Inc.(NASDAQ:AAPL) shares declined 1. 33 percent after the US-based tabloid National Enquirer published photos of Jobs taken on February 8 outside Stanford Cancer Center that showed him looking extremely thin and frail.

The euro advanced 0.07 percent to 1.3617 against the dollar and the yen gained 0.02 percent against the greenback. Crude oil futures advanced 0.12 percent to $86.46/barrel and gold futures fell 0.05 percent.

European Markets

European stock markets pared earlier losses and ended flat on Thursday as strong U.S. manufacturing data buoyed sentiment in the late trading session.

The Stoxx 600 advanced 0.2 percent to 291.16. DAX30 declined 8.79 points or 0.12 percent to 7,405.51, CAC 40 advanced 1.05 points or 0.03 percent 4,152.34 and the FTSE 100 advanced 2.11 points or 0.03 percent to 6,087.38.

On the economic front, the euro zone consumer confidence indicator rose to minus 9.9 in February from minus 11.2 in January, while economists expected a modest increase to minus 11.

Shares of Cap Gemini climbed 7.6 percent after the company said its full year profit surged 57 percent to 280 million euros ($379.2 million) due to stronger demand for its technology. The company expects revenue growth in the range between 9 to 10 percent for fiscal 2011.

Schneider Electrics SA gained 2.52 percent to 117.95 euros and Societe Generale advanced 1.56 percent to 52.04 euros, while HSBC Holdings PLC rose 1.30 percent and Royal Dutch Shell PLC advanced 1.26 percent.

Asian Markets

Asian stock markets mostly ended higher on Thursday as higher growth forecast for the U.S economy from the Federal Reserve and solid earnings reports buoyed sentiment.

Tokyo shares ended higher with the key Nikkei index rising 0.26 percent. The benchmark Nikkei 225 Average advanced 28.35 points to 10, 836.64 to log a 10-month closing high.

Exporter companies gained as the dollar remained above the 83.50-yen level due to brighter U.S. economic outlook for 2011. Sony Corp. advanced 1.8 percent and Nissan Motors gained 1.14 percent, while Canon Inc., which gets most of its revenue from abroad, surged 3.92 percent.

Honda Motor gained 1.9 percent on the news that the company may buy back its shares to meet its goal of returning 30 percent of net profit to shareholders.

Chinese stocks ended modestly higher as gains in rare earth firms and power grid stocks were offset by declines in property developer shares after the Beijing city government imposed fresh restrictions on home-buyers in the latest attempt to rein in soaring house prices.

Chinese Shanghai composite gained 0.10 percent or 3.07 points to 2,926.96 and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng advanced 0.63 percent or 144.87 points to 23,301.84.

Among Chinese property developers, China Overseas Land declined 3.04 percent and China Resources Land fell 2.16 percent, while China-listed Poly Real Estate Group fell 2.55 percent and Gemdale Corp. declined 2.92 percent.

Meanwhile, South Korean shares ended lower, led by declines from financial sector after a regulator imposed a six-month suspension of operations on two banks hit by liquidity shortages. Benchmark Seoul composite fell 11.89 points or 0.60 percent to 1,977.22.