Investors are bidding stocks higher going into the weekend, with banks' shares near the top of the leaderboard, despite the still heightened tensions in the Middle East.
Precisely due to the latter, some analysts believed Italian president Sergio Mattarella was likely to try to inject some urgency into the consultation process for creating a new government, which was set to start on Friday, analysts said.

“The leader of the center-right, Matteo Salvini, continues to see a center-right government, supported by the Five Star Movement, as the main solution to the current deadlock, but, in our view, no steps forward were made yesterday to alleviate the deep differences between Forza Italia and M5S. Therefore, while we see the emergence of a center-right government as the most likely scenario, it is also true that a dialogue between the League and M5S has been hotting up,” said analysts at Unicredit Bank.

Helping to buoy sentiment nonetheless, and acting as a backdrop alongside the ongoing situation in Syria, was the more positive line taken by the White House overnight on the global trade front.

As of 1222 BST, the benchmark Stoxx 600 was higher by 0.44% or 1.65 points at 380.47, alongside an advance of 0.72% or 90.0 points to 12,504.23 for the German Dax and a gain of 0.44% or 23.47 points to 5,332.57 on the Cac-40.

Banks were doing especially well, with the Stoxx 600's gauge of lenders' shares gaining 1.08% to 177.69, although it remained far beneath the 2018 highs of 197.0 hit on 26 January.

Helping to stoke interest in the sector was the more 'hawkish' set of US central bank policy meeting minutes from Wednesday night, with quarterly updates expected ahead of the opening bell on Wall Street from banking giants including Citigroup and Wells Fargo.

Speaking overnight, Donald Trump said of China “now we're really negotiating and I think they're going to treat us really fairly.” The US president also sounded a confident note on the ongoing NAFTA talks, saying they were coming along great.

As well, on Thursday evening it was reported that the US Secretary of Defence, James Mattis, had argued in favour of obtaining more evidence of the use of chemical weapons in Syria before any strike, in order buttress the case for action in the eyes of world opinion.

On the economic front, data out at the end of the week revealed a drop in Eurozone imports during February – which analysts said hinted at the 'peak' in growth now being past – and firmer 'core' consumer prices in Germany.

Thus, the euro area's seasonally-adjusted trade surplus improved from €20.2bn for January to €21.0bn in February, according to Eurostat, but only because of a sharp 3.1% fall in import volumes.

Meanwhile, in Germany, the Ministry of Finance confirmed that consumer prices picked-up from a 1.4% year-on-year pace in January to 1.6% for February, as expected.

Commenting on those figures, Claus Vistesen at Pantheon Macroeconomics said: “Overall, we think both headline and core inflation in Germany will edge higher in coming months.

“At 1.6% the core rate is not far off where it peaked in previous business cycles, but we see risks that strong growth and a record-low unemployment this time around will push it towards 2% in the next 12 months.”

After the close of trading in London, ratings agency Moody's was set to publish its review of Spain's long-term debt rating.

On the corporate side of things, shares in German lender Deutsche Bank were tracking gains overnight in their US-listed peers, even after Standard&Poor's placed its rating on the bank's long-term debt on credit watch 'negative'.


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