Europe ends mixed after ECB minutes; US data eyed

European markets seesawed on Thursday as investors focused on U.S. economic data and positioned themselves ahead of the long Easter weekend.

The pan-European Euro Stoxx 600 Index (^STOXX) wobbled around the flatline in afternoon trading, with major bourses trading mostly higher.

Shares of U.K. retailer Marks & Spencer (London Stock Exchange: MKS-GB) were higher by over 5 percent after the company posted its best non-food sales performance for nearly four years.

Read More M&S posts best non-food sales in four years

BTG (London Stock Exchange: BTG-GB) shares were also on the rise, up 5.7 percent, after the drugs firm upgraded its sales forecast for the year on Thursday.

European Central Bank (ECB) policymakers confirmed their commitment to the recently-implemented bond-buying program, minutes from their March meeting reveal.

At its March 5 meeting, the ECB Governing Council said it was essential to “remain firm” on the policy, and reiterated its commitment to keep it in place “for as long as needed,” according to records published Thursday.

U.S. stocks traded higher on Thursday in the last day of trade for the week as investors digested economic data and set up for Friday’s jobs report.

Factory orders showed an increase of 0.2 percent in February, beating expectations for a second month of decline.

February’s trade deficit also came in much smaller than expected at $ 35.4 billion. Friday’s labor market report is expected to show an increase in nonfarm payrolls of around 250,000 in March, to leave the unemployment rate unchanged at a more-than six-and-a-half-year low of 5.5 percent. Investors will also watch for wage growth.

In Greece — whose debt problems have been one of the biggest worries in the euro zone over the past few months — has sent an updated list of reforms to its lenders on Wednesday, raising hopes that it can access financial aid and avoid defaulting on its debt repayments.

In the U.K., all eyes will be on the country’s political leaders as they take part in a seven-way television debate which could help decide the outcome of next month’s election — the most difficult to call in decades.

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