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European markets close higher; Trump's pro-growth agenda in focus; Next up 8%

European markets closed higher on Thursday as investors continued to monitor developments surrounding U.S. President Donald Trump's pro-growth agenda.

The pan-European STOXX 600 ended 0.85 percent higher with most sectors and major bourses in positive territory.

Retail shares were among the best-performing sectors as several retailers posted earnings reports. British clothing firm Next said it was "extremely cautious" for the year ahead and reported a fall in profits of 3.8 percent. Next had previously warned in January the company's profits were due to fall. Its shares surged close to the top of the benchmark, up by 8 percent on Thursday.

The environmental technology group Halma rose 6.9 percent after announcing it expected adjusted profit before tax to be in line with expectations of between £183.7 million ($229.64 million) and £199.4 million.

French investment company Wendel upwardly revised its net assets on Thursday making it one of the top-performing European blue chip stocks. Its shares were more than 4 percent higher.

On the other hand, Gemalto was among the worst performers for the second consecutive session after HSBC bank downgraded its "buy" recommendation for investors to "hold". The Dutch digital security firm was down by 3.8 percent. Orion, the engineered carbons firm, also fell about 3.7 percent after announcing a secondary common stock offering on Wednesday.

In the U.S., stocks rose as investors eagerly awaited a key vote in the House regarding a Republican-led health care bill that would replace Obamacare.

In the U.K., four people died and 40 people were injured on Wednesday after a suspected terrorist drove a car along a pavement in Westminster, London and then stabbed a policeman. Sterling dropped to a six-day low against the dollar on the news though has since rebounded to $1.2485.

On the data front, U.K. retail sales rebounded in February though the underlying trend appeared weak after three months of decline. Sales in the previous month grew by 1.4 percent according to the Office of National Statistics.

Germany's consumer sentiment is expected to fall for the second consecutive month in April after a pickup in headline inflation figures, GfK market research reported in a survey. It sees the sentiment index falling to 9.8 points in next month, down from 10.0 in March.

The European Central Bank will host a General Council meeting in Frankfurt on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen is due to deliver a keynote speech at the Federal Reserve System Community Development Research Conference at approximately midday London time.

Sticking with the U.S., Trump and House of Representative leaders made a last-ditch effort to persuade conservative Republicans to vote in favor of plans to overhaul Obamacare. A vote on the bill could be passed as soon as Thursday though observers and analysts believe the outcome remained uncertain.

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