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European stocks close higher as investors shrug off weak data, look to strong earnings

European stocks closed higher on the final day of a shortened trading week, as investors looked past weak euro zone data to fresh corporate earnings.

European Markets: FTSE, GDAXI, FCHI, IBEX

The pan-European STOXX 600 closed provisionally up almost 0.2%, with sectors and major bourses largely in positive territory.

Equities initially turned negative after the release of weak manufacturing PMI numbers out of France and Germany. German manufacturing data came in below expectations, while France's data also showed a decline in output.

PMI data for the euro zone came also came in below forecasts, stoking concerns of a slowdown in the region. The euro fell to a one-week low against the dollar after the figures were released.

But investors soon turned their attention to corporate earnings, with results from consumer goods giant Unilever and energy management firm Schneider Electric beating expectations. The two companies' share prices rose toward the top of the European benchmark, both up around 3%.

On the other end, French luxury group Kering tumbled close to the bottom of the STOXX 600 after the company's earnings narrowly beat estimates on Wednesday and growth at flagship brand Gucci cooled. Shares of the Paris-listed stock fell nearly 5%.

Elsewhere, sterling also declined against the dollar, falling to around $1.3001 despite the U.K. posting strong retail sales figures for March.

On Wall Street, stocks gave up most of their earlier gains on Thursday as losses in the health-care sector continued for a third straight day.

The U.S. corporate earnings season also continued on Thursday as companies like Honeywell and BB&T reported better-than-expected profits.

So far, more than 78% of the S&P 500 companies that have reported have topped analyst expectations, according to FactSet.