Europe stocks close higher after ECB reveals gentle taper; Nokia tanks; IBEX reduces gains slightly

Key Points
  • Earnings reports continued to drive the market with Orange, Deutsche Bank, Bayer, ABB and Santander among those reporting
  • However, all eyes were on Frankfurt, as the European Central Bank announced its latest rate and monetary policy decisions
  • The situation in Catalonia saw fresh developments as Catalan President Carles Puidgemont decided against calling a snap election
ECB's Draghi unlikely to cause volatility: Janus Henderson Investors

Markets in Europe closed higher Thursday after the European Central Bank (ECB) announced that it plans to extend, but reduce, its bond-buying program.

The pan-European Stoxx 600 closed provisionally higher, with almost all sectors in positive territory following the announcement.

The STOXX 600 extended gains, after U.S. stocks started the trading day mostly in positive territory.

The ECB said it would be slashing the level of bond purchases in half from 60 billion euros ($70.7 billion) to 30 billion euros, with the move expected to start at the beginning of 2018. Following the announcement, the euro dropped against the U.S. dollar, trading down around 0.98 percent at $1.169 at 4:35 p.m. BST (11:35 a.m. ET).

In Draghi's introductory statement, he said that the monetary policy decisions made Thursday were taken to preserve the "very favorable financing conditions that are still needed for a sustained return of inflation rates towards levels that are below, but close to, 2 percent."

Elsewhere, in central bank news, some House Republicans have called upon President Donald Trump to not reappoint current Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen when her term expires in February. In a letter sent to the president, the legislators told Trump that "new leadership" was needed at the institution to push the economy forward.

Earnings: Nokia tanks 17%, Barclays drops 7%

Earnings season continues to rattle investor sentiment Thursday, as a whole host of corporates posted their latest financial figures both in Europe and the U.S. Technology stocks were the worst-performers in early afternoon trade — dipping more than 0.6 percent as a sector — dragged down by Nokia. The firm fell as much as 17 percent after reporting sales and network profit below consensus.

Banking stocks were mostly higher, despite lower-than-expected results coming out of the sector. Deutsche Bank posted a better-than-anticipated surge in net income. Net income stood at 649 million euros ($768 million) for the third quarter. But shares fell almost 1 percent as the German lender remained less attractive than its international peers.

The British bank Barclays reported a worse than expected profit before tax for the third quarter. The lender dropped more than 7 percent in trade. Elsewhere in banks, Deutsche Boerse CEO Carsten Kengeter informed the supervisory board that he would be stepping down at the end of 2017. Shares remained in the black.

ABB reported earnings slightly above expectations, saying its focus on robots for the food and beverage industry has paid off. It was up by over 2 percent.

Meanwhile, oil refiner Neste shot up 9 percent, after reporting third-quarter earnings which beat market expectations. In its interim report for the first nine months of 2017, Neste saw operating profit come in at 875 million euros, while its CEO Matti Lievonen said the company was on track to deliver "a very successful year."

IBEX pares gains slightly

The situation in Catalonia saw fresh developments as Catalan President Carles Puidgemont decided against calling a snap election.

Puidgemont announced the decision in the Catalan parliament. The leader has been under pressure to act since Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy threatened to invoke Article 155, a move which would suspend Catalonia's political autonomy.

Spain's IBEX bourse pared gains slightly, but was still seen trading up more than 1.4 percent. The index was seen trading at 10,394 points prior to Puidgemont's announcement, and moved down to 10,292 following it.

—CNBC's Jeff Cox contributed to this report