- European stocks held gains on Thursday, as markets still eyed the European Central Bank''s policy statement due later in the day, while hopes of progress on the Ukrainian crisis continued to support sentiment.

During European afternoon trade, the DJ Euro Stoxx 50 advanced 0.69%, France’s CAC 40 gained 0.63%, while Germany’s DAX climbed 0.46%.

The ECB was widely expected to leave monetary policy on hold after recent data showed that the annual rate of inflation in the euro zone ticked up to 0.7% in April from a record low 0.5% in March. The ECB targets inflation of close to but just below 2%.

The uptick in consumer prices eased pressure on the bank to implement fresh policy measures to tackle low inflation in the region.

Meanwhile, sentiment remained mildly supported after Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday said he was ready to discuss a way out of the Ukrainian crisis with the head of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

Financial stocks were broadly higher, as French lenders BNP Paribas (PARIS:BNPP) and Societe Generale (PARIS:SOGN) gained 0.80% and 0.79%, while Germany''s Deutsche Bank (XETRA:DBKGn) jumped 1.38%.

Among peripheral lenders, Italy''s Unicredit (MILAN:CRDI) and Intesa Sanpaolo (MILAN:ISP) surged 2.06% and 2.05% respectively, while Spanish banks Banco Santander (MADRID:SAN) and BBVA (MADRID:BBVA) advanced 0.82% and 1.29%.

Elsewhere, Vallourec (PARIS:VLLP), a French producer of steel pipes for the oil and gas industry, reported first-quarter earnings that beat analysts'' estimates, sending shares up 0.38%.

On the downside, Deutsche Telekom (XETRA:DTEGn) slid 0.64% after the telecommunications company reported a 3.9% drop in first-quarter earnings.

In London, FTSE 100 gained 0.57%, led by Barclays (LONDON:BARC), up 5.70%, after the bank said it is planning to cut a total of 14,000 jobs this year, up from the 12,000 cuts announced in February.

Other U.K. lenders were also mostly higher, as Lloyds Banking (LONDON:LLOY) climbed 0.57% and the Royal Bank of Scotland (LONDON:RBS) rallied 1.44%. HSBC Holdings (LONDON:HSBA) underperformed however, sliding 0.48%.

BT Group (LONDON:BT) also remained sharply higher, with shares up 2.73%, after the broadband provider exceeded analysts’ earnings estimates for the sixth consecutive quarter.

In the mining sector, stocks were still mixed. Bhp Billiton (LONDON:BLT) rose 0.26% and Glencore Xstrata (LONDON:GLEN) jumped 1.27%, while Randgold Resources (LONDON:RRS) dropped 0.77%.

Also in the U.K., the Bank of England kept monetary policy on hold at the conclusion of its two-day meeting, in a widely anticipated decision.

In the U.S., equity markets pointed to a steady open. The Dow 30 futures pointed to a 0.09% rise, S&P 500 futures signaled a 0.04% uptick, while the Nasdaq 100 futures indicated a 0.04% gain.

Later in the day, the U.S. was to publish the weekly report on initial jobless claims.

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