European markets closed higher on Thursday as European Central Bank (ECB) President Mario Draghi hinted at possible stimulus measures next month, and as Russia struck a more conciliatory tone regarding the situation in Ukraine.
The FTSEurofirst 300 Index provisionally closed higher by 1 percent at 1,358.18 points, after hitting its highest level since June 2008 earlier in the day. Draghi said the ECB governing council was "comfortable" taking action in June.
The ECB held its key interest rate at a record low of 0.25 percent and announced no new steps to boost the euro zone economy on Thursday. This was despite ongoing concern about the region's disinflation problem; although inflation picked up slightly in April to 0.7 percent, it was below expectations and remains way off the ECB's target of close to 2 percent.
"At the end of this discussion I would say that the governing council is comfortable with acting next time but before we want to see the staff projections that will come out in early June," Draghi said at a press conference following the announcement.
The Bank of England also kept its interest rates on hold at 0.5 percent, as expected. The FTSE was 0.5 percent higher in afternoon trade.
Stocks were also buoyed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who called for peace talks over the ongoing unresti in Ukraine. He also called for the postponement of a secession vote in the troubled Ukrainian region of Donetsk, but on Thursday Reuters reported that pro-Russian separatists had unanimously voted in favor of holding the vote on Sunday.
Russia's Micex index, having closed higher by over 3 percent on Wednesday, fell on the news but recovered in late-afternoon trade, closing up 0.6 percent.
"It would be unwise to dismiss out-of-hand Putin's apparent shift yesterday. However, I think it would be even more unwise to regard it as in some way a definitive change of direction, especially not by someone who is not noted for U-turns," said Alistair Newton, senior political analyst at Nomura, in a note.
"We should not assume...that the risk of overt military intervention has disappeared or even significantly dissipated; the fact is that we do not know where the threshold for such really is in Putin's mind."
U.S. stocks were also higher on Thursday, as investors digested upbeat data on the U.S. jobs front.
Initial jobless claims fell by 26,000 to to 319,000 last week, versus a 325,000 estimate. The four-week average rose to 324,750 from 320,250 the week before, the Labor Department said.
Barclays unveiled a radical overhaul on Thursday, including the creation of a non-core division, containing around £115 billion ($195 billion) of assets deemed non-essential to the business. This will be dominated by assets from the investment bank, particularly the fixed income, currencies and commodities division.
In addition, investors learnt that 7,000 jobs would be culled at its investment banking division, and a total of 19,000 jobs would go between now and the end of 2016. Shares spiked on the news, closing up 8 percent.
Barclays was the top performer on the FTSE 100, ahead of BT. The telecommunications giant's shares bounced after it reported pre-tax profit and sales that beat expectations. Shares provisionally closed up 2.9 percent.
WM Morrison ended the day up around 4.2 percent despite reporting a continued slide in sales. There was better news for German supermarket Metro, whose shares closed 2.7 percent higher, after it posted better-than-expected profits at its cash and carry business.
In addition, shares of Adecco, the world's largest staffing company, rose 1.1 percent after it reported rising demand for its services in Germany and the U.K. The Swiss company's performance is viewed as a good barometer of labor market health.
Britain's largest insurer by market value, Prudential, announced a 29 percent increase in first-quarter new-business profit on Thursday. Its Asian, U.S. and U.K. sectors all reported growth, helping shares to climb 1.2 percent.
Sage investors, however, were perturbed by news that CEO Guy Berruyer would step down within the next 11 months. He told CNBC that his retirement plans included climbing Mont Blanc. The stock closed down 5.3 percent.
This came after a rebound in Asian shares on Thursday, following the previous day's sharp sell-off, as investors cheered strong data from the world's second biggest economy.
China's April trade report came in much better than expected with exports rising 0.9 percent from a year ago. That was well above Reuters estimates for a 1.7 percent fall and March's 6.6 percent tumble. Meanwhile, imports jumped 0.8 percent compared to an 11.3 percent slump in March.