By Carla Mozee and Victor Reklaitis, MarketWatch
Aviva shares edge up after earnings report
U.K. blue-chip stocks ended higher Thursday, with analysts pinning the advance in part on dovish remarks from European Central Bank President Mario Draghi.
Investors also awaited more details about potential U.S. tariffs on steel imports that analysts have said could stoke a global trade war, while also sifting through a round of corporate updates.
How markets moved
The FTSE 100 index rose 0.6% to end at 7,203.24, building on Wednesday's rise of 0.2% . The London benchmark has gained for four straight sessions.
The pound bought $1.3816, down from $1.3903 late Wednesday in New York.
The pan-European Stoxx Europe 600 closed 1.1% higher at 376.62.
What drove markets
The European Central Bank opted to leave interest rates unchanged , as expected, but also moved closer to ending its quantitative easing program, a key stimulus effort. The ECB dropped its commitment to ramp up asset purchases if the euro zone outlook deteriorates.
The euro was briefly up against the pound following the statement, buying around 89.50 pence compared with 89.26 pence late Wednesday, but then it turned lower after Draghi's remarks. It was recently changing hands at 89.15 pence.
Analysts noted that Draghi emphasized dovish elements of the central bank's latest statement , including a commitment to maintaining rates at present levels for an extended period beyond the end of asset purchases, as well as a continued commitment to potentially extending those purchases beyond September, if necessary.
Traders also were somewhat in wait-and-see mode as President Donald Trump was moving closer to signing an order to slap tariffs on steel and aluminum imports into the U.S. The Trump administration has indicated Canada and Mexico may be exempt from the levies. The president was expected to make an announcement at 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time, or 8:30 p.m. London time, according to media reports .
The European Union has said it's preparing its own tariffs if Trump moves ahead with the levies.
What strategists are saying
"Mario Draghi, the head of the ECB, stated that underlying inflation is subdued and that 'victory' can't be declared yet," said David Madden, a CMC Markets UK analyst, in a note.
"The dovish tone of the press conference encouraged buying of stocks, and the slide in the euro added to the bullish sentiment," the CMC analyst added.
Madden also said the news that Canada and Mexico may be exempt from the planned U.S. tariffs suggests Trump may be less aggressive than feared, but risks remain.
"The U.S. president may want to 'put America first', but it could put global investors last," he said.
G4S PLC fell 2.2%, with shares retreating from earlier gains made after the security and consulting services company declared a higher final dividend for the year and posted a rise in yearly pretax profit to GBP386 million ($536 million).
Aviva PLC declined 0.2% as the insurer said profit in 2017 rose , and that it expects to return GBP500 million ($694.3 million) in excess cash to shareholders this year.
Off the FTSE 100, Countrywide PLC sank 1.6%, but was off session lows, after the estate agent scrapped its dividend , citing the booking of a huge impairment charge and a slide in earnings as reason for the move.