European equities closed lower on Thursday, just below 5-1/2-year highs, with strong performances from mining stocks helping pare losses in the retail sector due to weak earnings.
Retailers report earnings
The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 provisionally closed 0.2 lower at 1,337.62 points, having gained nearly 2 percent so far this year.
On the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index (which closed down 0.1 percent), the basic resources sector outperformed on Thursday, as Rio Tinto reported bullish production and Citigroup said it was optimistic about the company's prospects.
Meanwhile, shares of United Utilities Group closed higher by around 4.7 percent after both Citigroup and Morgan Stanley raised its outlook on the firm.
Home Retail — which owns U.K. retailers such as Homebase and Argos — also received a boost after it announced its best like-for-like Christmas period in 10 years; shares closed highly by roughly 1.4 percent.
Shares of AB Foods, which owns cut-price clothing retailer Primark, closed the day down by 2.8 percent after announcing sales at its sugar unit were weaker than expected.
Electronics retailer Dixons posted a rise in Christmas sales but warned that growth could slow; shares finished the day down by 6.4 percent.
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