Europe markets cheered by ECB as it sets date for QE

European equities ended higher on Thursday after the European Central Bank (ECB) set a start date for its bond-buying program and upped economic growth forecasts for the euro zone.

The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 (FTSE International: .FTEU3) finished around 0.8 percent higher at 1,569, with all major bourses and sectors posting solid gains, having touched a seven-and-a-half-year high earlier in the session of 1,572.

European investors listened intently to ECB President Mario Draghi’s regular press conference. He said that the central bank’s 1 trillion euro ($ 1.1 trillion) bond-buying program would start on March 9. He also upgraded the ECB’s economic growth forecasts for 2015 and 2016 to 1.5 percent and 1.9 percent respectively.

Draghi’s comments boosted German stocks (^GDAXI), which closed around 1 percent higher, while the French CAC (Euronext Paris: .FCHI) ended around 0.9 percent higher. London’s FTSE 100 (FTSE International: .FTSE), which is not part of the euro area, finished almost 0.6 percent higher.

Stocks briefly pared gains when Draghi started speaking, before resuming their earlier trend. The euro (Exchange:EUR=) gained before falling back as Draghi spoke, having fallen to an 11-year low prior to the meeting.

U.S. stocks traded mildly higher on Thursday, breaking a two-day decline with a boost from details on quantitative easing in the euro zone, ahead of Friday’s jobs report.

Read MoreLive blog: Europe rate decisions loom; QE details eyed

The ECB published a list of institutions and agencies whose securities were eligible for purchase after earlier announcing it was keeping key interest rates at record lows.

These included the European Union, the Council of Europe Development Bank, the European Atomic Energy Community, the European Financial Stability Facility, the European Stability Mechanism, the European Investment Bank and the Nordic Investment Bank.

In stock-specific news, a profit rise for Aviva (London Stock Exchange: AV.-GB) gave investors plenty to cheer about with shares in the U.K. insurer closing 7 percent higher.

Continental (XETRA:CON-DE) shares rose as much as 2.4 percent, after the German auto-parts maker announced a jump in net profit for 2014 and an increase in sales.

French supermarket Carrefour (Euronext Paris: CA-FR) announced a profit hike in its full-year earnings and eyed a rise in 2015 expenditure; shares rose by nearly 3 percent.

Meanwhile, the Bank of England announced it would hold its key interest rate at a historic low of 0.5 percent, and keep the size of its quantitative easing asset-purchasing program at £375 billion.

Read More Sixth year after historic UK rate cut, what next?

Investors also digested the news that China is aiming for economic growth target of 7 percent for 2015 -its lowest target in 11 years. Asian stocks traded lower on Thursday as a result.

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