By Sara Sjolin, MarketWatch
LONDON (MarketWatch) -- European stock markets were on track for a third straight day of gains, after upbeat German business data and encouraging comments from European Central Bank President Mario Draghi cheered investors.
The Stoxx Europe 600 index gained 0.2% to 289.40, adding to Thursday's gains when the benchmark closed at its highest level since February 2011.
Shares of Nokia Corp. (>> Nokia Oyj) posted some of the biggest losses in the index, down 5.6% to EUR3.11, adding to a 5.5% prior-day loss on the back of a mixed earnings report. UBS cut the Finnish handset maker's price target to EUR2.80 from EUR3.
On a more upbeat note, shares of STMicroelectronics NV gained 4.4%, after Exane BNP Paribas lifted the chip maker to outperform from neutral.
On a broader basis, investors tracked comments from Draghi as the ECB boss spoke at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Draghi said that economic activity was stabilizing, while also foreseeing a recovery in the second half of the year.
Separately, the ECB said banks that participated in the three-year, long-term refinancing operations, also referred to as LTRO, will begin next week to repay 137.2 billion euros ($183.59 billion) of the more than 1 trillion euros in loans provided in December 2011 and February 2012.
Investors also focused on the latest data set from Germany. The Munich-based Ifo Institute's January business-climate index took an unexpectedly strong jump to 104.2 from 102.4 in December, signaling that a widely-suspected contraction in the fourth-quarter may have come to an end.
"January's rise in the German Ifo business survey provides further hope that Q4's estimated sharp fall in GDP will be a one off," Ben May, European economist at Capital Economics, said in a note.
"Nonetheless, given that the effects of the recent appreciation of the euro are unlikely to have been fully felt by exporters, it is too early to conclude that Germany will record a strong and sustained expansion in 2013," he added.
The DAX 30 index rallied 1.2% to 7,839.01, with shares of Commerzbank AG rising 0.9%.
Economic data out of the U.K., however, weren't as bright.The Office for National Statistics said the U.K. economy contracted 0.3% in the fourth quarter, worse than economists had expected.
U.K. stocks were slightly higher, with the FTSE 100 index trading around 6,267.15.
Shares of Royal Dutch Shell PLC (RDSB) gained 0.8%, after Société Générale lifted its rating on the oil major to buy from hold.
France's CAC 40 index rose 0.6% to 3,772.87, with shares of Credit Agricole SA up 2.4%. The bank said it would take a hit of around EUR160 million euros due to a EUR651 million impairment charge at the regional-bank level, but that it wouldn't effect its consolidated results or solvency ratios.
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