LONDON (AP) -- Solid weekly U.S. jobless claims figures shored up markets Thursday in the run-up to the first estimate of the country's first-quarter economic growth.
This week economic data have largely disappointed expectations. However, the 16,000 fall in weekly claims to 339,000 augurs well for next week's nonfarm payrolls report for April. Before then, investors will focus on Friday's release of GDP growth during the first three months of the year.
Growth is expected to come in at an annualized rate a little above 3 percent, way up from the previous quarter's 0.4 percent.
Michael Hewson, senior analyst at CMC Markets, said the risk is that investors are setting themselves up for "significant disappointment" if the growth numbers are low.
"Given the weakness of recent data it is somewhat surprising that this 3.1 percent estimate hasn't been revised lower, especially in light of the poor data seen in March, from employment, retail sales, existing home sales and durable goods yesterday," Hewson said.
Following the claims figures, European markets were trading more or less where they were before whereas Wall Street opened solidly.
In Europe, Germany's DAX rose 0.6 percent to 7,805, while the CAC-40 fell 0.2 percent to 3,835. Spain's IBEX underperformed all others, trading 0.8 percent lower after figures showed the unemployment rate climbed to a record high of 27.2 percent at the end of the first quarter of 2013.
The FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was flat at 6,433 even though official figures showed the country's economy grew by a greater than anticipated quarterly rate of 0.3 percent in the first three months of the year.
Many in the markets were predicting that Britain would sink into its third recession in less than five years. But the rise eased expectations that the Bank of England will soon announce another big monetary stimulus. That gave the British pound a lift -- it was trading 1.3 percent higher at $1.5466 and near two-month highs.
Sentiment has held up this week largely because investors think the world's major central banks will continue with their super-easy monetary policies. That's increasingly the case in Europe, where investors think the European Central Bank will likely cut interest rates at its policy meeting next Thursday.
"The case for an ECB rate cut at the 2 May policy meeting is quite strong," said Neil MacKinnon, global macro strategist at VTB Capital.
Currency markets elsewhere were unspectacular, with the euro down 0.1 percent at $1.3009 and the dollar 0.1 percent lower at 99.37 yen.
Earlier in Asia, Japan's Nikkei 225 rose 0.6 percent to close at 13,926.08 while Hong Kong's Hang Seng advanced 1 percent to 22,401.24. South Korea's Kospi added 0.8 percent to 1,951.60.
Oil prices were fairly flat too after recovering above $90 a barrel on Wednesday -- the benchmark rate was down 15 cents at $91.27 a barrel.
Pamela Sampson in Bangkok contributed to this report.
By PAN PYLAS
AP Business Writer