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Europe closes higher on earnings; DAX hits new record; HSBC up 2.8%; Next slumps 5.1%

European markets closed higher on Thursday after being buoyed by corporate earnings and a televised political debate which saw centrist presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron maintaining his lead on eurosceptic opponent Marine Le Pen ahead of this Sunday's French election.

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The pan-European Stoxx 600 ended higher by 0.67 percent, with most sectors having shifted into positive territory by mid-morning. France's CAC 40 hit its highest level since January 2008, while Germany's DAX closed at a fresh record high.

Banks were the best performing sector on Thursday afternoon. HSBC beat analyst estimates in its first-quarter results. Despite reporting a 19 percent dip in pre-tax profits, the bank was trading up 2.8 percent.

Oil and gas stocks dropped as concerns over rising global supply hit the markets and sent prices lower. Brent fell more than 3.7 percent, trading at $48.91, and WTI contracted 3.8 percent, being sold at $45.99. Nonetheless, Royal Dutch Shell reported a 136 percent annual uptick in profits in its first-quarter results. Its shares were slightly higher.

But basic resources were the poorest performer, down 2.3 percent after continuing to be weighed down by a sharp dip in metal prices and a rise in the U.S. dollar.

Retail also struggled as U.K. clothes retailer Next found itself among those at the bottom of the Stoxx 600, down 5.1 percent, after reporting a fall in sales.

In the U.S., markets opened slightly higher as investors digested more positive quarterly reports and looked at a key Congress vote on health care.

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Investors were reassured Thursday after a snap Elabe poll suggested that Macron had emerged the victor with 63 points to Le Pen's 34 when the pair clashed over their visions of France's future, the euro and terrorism in a TV debate Wednesday evening.

Meanwhile, U.S. markets were boosted after the Federal Reserve maintained interest rates and delivered a hawkish assessment of economic growth at the culmination of the central bank's two-day policy meeting.

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