World stocks ran higher on Thursday following their slowest quarter in a year, as US economic strength offset the return to strict Covid-19 lockdown measures in parts of Europe and elsewhere. US president Joe Biden's sweeping $2.3 trillion plan to rebuild America's crumbling infrastructure lifted MSCI's 50-country world index for a second day running, while oil jumped 1.5 per cent before an Opec meeting expected to keep supply tight.
The euro changed hands at $1.1740, after hitting a near five-month low of $1.1704. Against sterling, the common currency was flat after hitting a 13-month low of 85 pence per euro.
The Iseq index rose just 0.24 per cent, slightly underperforming its peers. AIB was one of the main movers, up 2.5 per cent to €2.29. This was on the back of news that it would seek shareholder approval at its upcoming annual general meeting to allow it to buy back up to an almost 5 per cent stake from taxpayers, as it seeks to exit state ownership. Rival Bank of Ireland rose 0.4 per cent to €4.24. Iseq heavyweight CRH gave back some of its gains this week, falling 1.65 per cent to €39.31. The company's stock had been buoyed by the new US administration's massive $2.3 trillion stimulus plan. CRH is one of the biggest building materials suppliers in the US. Despite the increase in oil prices, Ryanair rose 2 per cent to €16.88 on the back of stronger economic data coming out of Europe. Insulation specialist Kingspan increased by 0.9 per cent to €72.94 on the back of the US stimulus plan and the lower cost of raw materials.
British shares ended higher on Thursday ahead of a long weekend, as hopes of a swifter economic rebound this year boosted sentiment.
The blue-chip FTSE 100 index ended 0.4 per cent higher, with industrials and consumer discretionary stocks, mainly Ferguson, Melrose Industries, Aer Lingus-owner International Consolidated Airlines Group, Compass Group being the biggest gainers.
Bank stocks, including Prudential Financial, Barclays and Lloyds Banking Group were also among the biggest boosts on the index.
The FTSE 100 has risen 4.3 per cent so far this year, supported by speedy vaccine rollouts and a raft of economic stimulus. But a recent spike in virus cases across Europe has made investors cautious.
Meanwhile, defensive plays including consumer staples, and healthcare were the biggest drags on the index. Quilter rose 4.3 per cent, after it agreed to sell its international business to specialist life assurance company Utmost Group for £483 million as it sharpens its focus on its UK wealth management unit.
The domestically focused mid-cap FTSE 250 index climbed 1 per cent, led by industrials and consumer discretionary stocks. Fashion retailer Next rose 3.2 per cent, even after it reported a halving in annual pretax profit after lockdowns closed its stores but raised its forecast for a big rebound this year.
European stocks ended a hair's breadth away from a record high on Thursday as strong factory activity data out of the euro zone and optimism around a new US government spending plan eclipsed concerns about another lockdown in France.
The pan-European Stoxx 600 index was up 0.7 per cent at 432.22 points, about a point away from its all-time high. The German Dax climbed 0.7 per cent to hit an all-time high.
"A synchronised global recovery is expected to come through pretty strongly as we go through unlocking Europe in the next few months," said Jonathan Stubbs, equity strategist at Berenberg. "The earnings recovery story looks pretty well underpinned."
Chip stocks including ASML, Infineon Technologies and BE Semiconductor all rose between 1.2 per cent and 3.6 per cent after US chipmaker Micron Technology issued an upbeat revenue forecast.
Catering companies Sodexo and Elior slipped even as Sodexo forecast an expansion of second-half revenue after reporting a large beat on its first-half profit margin.
Swiss lender Credit Suisse rose 2.6 per cent, but was on track for its worst week since March 2020, hit by worries about the fall-out from Archegos Capital's dramatic meltdown.
The S&P 500 on Thursday crossed the 4,000 mark for the first time, as gains in technology shares as well as optimism about a pickup in economic activity helped Wall Street kick off the second quarter on a high note. Swift vaccinations and a massive fiscal stimulus program are powering a recovery in the US labour market, helping investors shrug off latest data that showed a rise in the number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits last week. The closely watched monthly jobs report on Friday could show the US economy added 647,000 jobs in March, on top of a 379,000 increase in February.
Micron Technology jumped 4.8 per cent after the chipmaker forecast fiscal third-quarter revenue above Wall Street estimates due to higher demand for memory chips, thanks to 5G smartphones and artificial intelligence software. US-listed shares of rival Taiwan Semiconductor rose 3.8 per cent on its plan to invest $100 billion over the next three years to meet the rising chip demand.
The technology-heavy Nasdaq jumped 1.7 per cent as "high flying" stocks including Amazon, Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft and Facebook added between 1.1 per cent and 2.3 per cent after underperforming last month. – Additional reporting: Reuters