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European markets close higher; ECB and Trump in focus; Banco Popular slumps 17%

European markets closed higher on Thursday, with Italy setting the pace amid a significant upward revision in first-quarter economic growth.

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The pan-European Stoxx 600 ended 0.43 percent higher with autos stocks leading the gains. Auto Trader surged towards the top of the European benchmark on Thursday after a Barclays upgrade. The London-based classified advertising business saw its shares jump 4.5 percent in the session.

Vivendi shares closed 2 percent higher. The French media group obtained EU approval earlier this week for its plan to gain control of Telecom Italia. The latter announced Thursday that Vivendi's CEO would become its chairman.

Oil and gas stocks edged higher after fluctuating for much of the session. President Donald Trump is set to decide whether the U.S. will pull out of the global climate accord later on Thursday. Ahead of the announcement, Brent edged up 0.6 percent, to trade at around $51.09 a barrel, while WTI moved 1.03 percent higher to hit $48.83 shortly after the European close.

Looking at individual stocks, Banco Popular hit the bottom of the European benchmark, falling more than 17 percent. A European banking watchdog has said the Spanish bank will have to be wound down if it fails to find a buyer, Reuters reported.

Petrofac slipped over 1.1 percent after Moody's downgraded the stock to "junk" status with concerns that a fraud probe could hamper its ability to win contracts or could result in a heavy fine.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., the Dow Jones industrial average and broader S&P 500 index both continued higher on Thursday following strong private jobs data pointed to a robust labor market.

ECB and data

Italy's national statistics bureau said stronger-than-anticipated domestic demand had boosted economic growth in the first three months of the year. The euro zone economy grew 0.5percent in the first quarter, twice as fast as previously indicated by preliminary data posted last week. The FTSE MIB moved 1 percent higher on Thursday.

Data from Nationwide showed Thursday that house prices in the U.K. dropped for a third consecutive month in May for the first time since 2009.

Investors are also watching out for comments from European Central Bank officials after a Reuters report earlier this week indicated that the central bank will kick off tapering discussions next week. Ewald Nowotny, governor of the National Bank of Austria, said Wednesday that inflation rates might remain low in the long term and the ECB's target is likely to be questioned. Jens Weidmann, from the German Bundesbank, is due to speak at 5:00 p.m. London time at the Konstanz Seminar.

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