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Retailers Help European Shares Edge Up on Sales Boost

European sales closed higher on Thursday as encouraging sales figures from retailers Carrefour and Associated British Foods helped offset losses in the mining sector.

The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 Index provisionally closed 0.4 percent higher at 1,164.69 points, stuck in the 1 percent range that has trapped it for the past week, as the index consolidated 22-month highs.

Corporate updates were the main driver on Thursday, with AB Foods, owner of discount retailer Primark, and supermarket Carrefour rising 5.5 percent and 3.3 percent, respectively, in brisk volume after they reported reassuring figures for the end of 2012. Belgian supermarket Delhaize released fourth-quarter earnings that were in line with expectations.

The retail sector helped counter a 0.7 percent fall for heavyweight miner Rio Tinto, which recorded a $14 billion writedown.

"Investors are starting to judge stocks based on their fundamentals, as opposed to macro factors," Mark Buchanan, director of trading strategy at Credit Suisse, said.

Rio Tinto also announced that CEO Tom Albanese was stepping down, with Sam Walsh confirmed as his successor.

Anglo American also showed losses on news that operations had to be stopped on Tuesday night at a platinum mine in South Africa; Exane BNP downgraded their outlook on the firm from neutral to underperform.

Symbol
Name
Price
 
Change
%Change
Volume
FTSE
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DAX
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CAC 40
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IBEX 35
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European shares were also boosted by stronger-than-expected U.S. jobs data. The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits tumbled to a five-year low last week, the Labor Department said, the largest weekly drop since February 2010.

In North Africa, six foreign hostages and eight of their captors were killed when Algerian forces fired on a vehicle being used by besieged gunmen at a gas plant in the remote Algerian desert, according to Reuters.

Brent oil futures rose above $110 per barrel on the news, as the crisis fueled concern over security of supply from the region. However, concerns about a weak global economic outlook and falling U.S. crude demand kept gains in check.