European shares closed higher on Thursday, despite fresh Ukraine concerns returning to the market. Stocks managed to recover earlier gains after a slew of earnings in the U.S. and Europe boosted investor sentiment.
The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 Index provisionally closed higher by 0.2 percent at 1,341.71 points on Thursday. Earlier, U.S.-based Apple dazzled investors with a big earnings beat on Wednesday evening, helping European shares experience a rally in morning trade.
Ukraine worries return
However, stocks turned mixed in afternoon trade, erasing gains that came with Apple's earnings, as the situation in Ukraine came to the forefront once more.
The German DAX was the main underperformer - falling 1 percent at one point in afternoon trade - as fears of an escalation in tensions between Russia and Western powers spooked investors. German companies are heavily exposed to Russia and Ukraine and the DAX closed the day down 0.1 percent.
According to the Interfax news agency, Russia Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said Russia had started military drills near the Ukrainian border as a response to operations by Ukrainian forces against pro-Russian separatists and NATO activities in eastern Europe.
AVA Trade Chief Market Analyst Naeem Aslam said in a note: "Military exercise plans by Russia has caused a sell off for the equity markets. Traders are taking this threat very seriously and we having seen a hasty change in sentiment on our end.
"If Russia does follow its plan, then we will anticipate a further sharp sell off across the board for the equity markets and ground breaking earnings report from Apple and Facebook may not be able to pull the markets up."
Russian shares closed down 2.2 percent on Thursday.
Slew of earnings
Bank in Europe, AstraZeneca, the big U.K. pharma company at the center of takeover speculation, reported a rise in revenues but declining profits for the first quarter, as the debate over its future continued. Shares were 3.3 percent higher and helped the FTSE 100 to briefly hit a six-week high in trade before it closed higher by 0.3 percent.
Shares of Heineken provisionally closed down 1.3 percent after the world's third-largest brewer reported lower than expected earnings despite a pick-up in demand in Africa and parts of Europe.
Dassault Systemes shares fell 1.7 percent after the 3D software firm reported a fall in earnings-per-share but confirmed its outlook for the year ahead.
Meanwhile, Michelin shares closed down around 4.3 percent after its first-quarter results. Its stock was also squeezed by a downgrade to "neutral" by Exane BNP Paribas.
Shares in U.K. bank Barclays could also be in the spotlight with an shareholder meeting on Thursday where shareholders are set to vote on the company's remuneration report. Shares ended the day higher by 1.3 percent.
Another stock in focus was French turbine and train maker Alstom. The company has moved to quash rumors that it is in talks with General Electric (GE) about a possible takeover. However, shares surged higher on the speculation, ending the day around 11 percent higher.
Back in Europe, Mario Draghi, the president of the European Central Bank (ECB), spoke on monetary policy at an event in Amsterdam. He said that the bank could embark on a broad-based asset purchase program in the event of the worsening of the medium-term outlook for inflation.
On the data front, Germany's businesses grew more confident in April, the widely followed Ifo index showed on Thursday. The Ifo business climate index came in at 111.2 points, better than forecast. This followed a fall to 110.7 in March, after four consecutive monthly increases.
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