Europe Markets

Europe shares close flat; Bayer up 3%

Europe shares close flat; Bayer up 3%

European stocks closed flat on Friday, boosted by rises on Wall Street, where a final read on U.S. consumer sentiment in February came in just above expectations and existing-home sales held steady.

The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 Index closed flat at 1,345.89 points. The U.K.'s FTSE 100 closed unofficially down 0.1 percent, but still managed to post its best month in seven.

U.S. stocks climbed on Friday, with the hitting an intraday record. U.S. consumer sentiment rose marginally this month even as concerns about the extreme weather persisted, with the /University of Michigan's final read coming in at 81.6.

Euro zone inflation data beats

In the euro zone, consumer prices rose 0.8 percent (year-on-year) in February, according to an official flash estimate. This was better than market expectations of 0.7 percent growth, and was the same as the revised figure for January.The metric is closely watched by investors, some of whom see the European Central Bank announcing new stimulus measures if inflation remains very weak.

(Read more: Euro zone inflation tops forecasts, unemployment unchanged)

"The increase in inflation of up to 0.8 percent will give European Central Bank President Mario Draghi a tiny amount of wriggle room," Alastair McCaig, a trader at IG Markets, said in a research note.

The unemployment rate for the euro zone in January, also released on Friday, held steady at 12 percent, in line with analysts' predictions.

Meanwhile, German retail sales showed their strongest gain in seven years, according to data from the Federal Statistics Office. Plus, a Nationwide house price index for the U.K. showed the biggest year-on-year rise since May 2010.

(Read more: UK house prices in biggest annual rise in almost 4 years)

However, political and economic chaos in Ukraine continued to weigh on sentiment on Friday. Interfax reported on Friday morning that dozens of armed men in military uniforms had seized an airport in the capital of Ukraine's Crimea region. Meanwhile, more than 10 Russian military helicopters flew into Ukrainian airspace over the Crimea region, according to Reuters.

Meanwhile, ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, appearing in public for the first time since he fled from Ukraine to Russia, said he would not give up the fight for his country's future. He told reporters he had been forced from power by "nationalist, pro-fascist gangsters" and blamed the crisis on the West for "indulging" protesters seeking his overthrow.

(Read more: Yanukovych will 'struggle for Ukraine's future')

Optimistic outlook for Bayer: CEO

Erste Bank shares fall

In stocks news, German drugmaker saw shares rise 3 percent after lifting its estimate for potential sales of new drugs, helping Germany's rise by just over 1 percent.

Shares in Spanish lender were suspended in early morning trading, according to the market regulator. Reuters reported that the government was starting to sell part of its stake in the bank. Shares closed sharply lower, down 3.7 percent.

Austrian bank saw its shares provisionally close down around 10 percent after announcing it would halve its dividend for the year, but aimed to keep its operating profit roughly stable for 2014.

Shares of rose 5.8 percent after reporting a rise in profits in 2013, highlighting sales that managed to come in at the top end of market expectations.

U.K. bookmaker signaled cost-cutting for the year ahead to offset the impact of a new tax regime for line gambling; shares climbed 6 percent.

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