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European markets gain strength

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- European markets gained strength at midday on Thursday as investors digested a handful of corporate results and looked ahead to a positive opening on Wall Street.

London's FTSE 100 was up 1.3 percent to 3,707 and Frankfurt's electronically traded Xetra Dax also gained 1.3 percent to 2,658.26, while the CAC 40 blue chip index in Paris rose 0.3 percent to 2,866.68.

The pan-European FTSE Eurotop 300, a broader index of the region's largest stocks, was up 1 percent.

DaimlerChrysler (FDCX), Europe's fifth biggest carmaker, rose 1.1 percent to 27.87 euros after saying it expected to post higher profits this year, provided the global economic situation stabilised. (Full story)

Volkswagen (FVOW), Europe's biggest carmaker, rose 1.4 percent to 35.91 euros as bargain hunters bought its stock that was beaten down after the group on Wednesday posted a decline in full-year pretax profit. (Full story)

BAE Systems (BA) jumped 6.6 percent to 136.50 pence after Europe's biggest defence company reported a steep drop in 2002 earnings to the bottom of market expectations and forecast little change in its defence trading this year. (Full story)

But investors bought its stock because of BAE's announcement on Wednesday that it had reached a deal with Britain to cap cost overruns on two defence contracts at 750 million ($1.2 billion). (Full story)

British drink giant Diageo (DGE) added 3.8 percent to 622 pence after saying it expected to improve on a solid first-half performance. (Full story)

Anglo-Dutch publisher Reed Elsevier rose 4.4 percent to 9.41 euros after posting an 11 percent gain in 2002 pre-tax profit and saying it was on track for double-digit per share earnings growth this year. (Full story)

However, French oil giant TotalFinaElf (PFP) lost 1.7 percent to 120.50 euros after its results came in slightly below analysts' expectations. (Full story)

French cosmetics giant L'Oreal (POR) fell 3.8 percent to 60.35 euros. On Thursday, it reported a 10.3 percent rise in 2002 earnings as its performance in mass market and salon haircare products sheltered it against an economic slowdown. (Full story)

The AEX index in Amsterdam and Milan's MIB30 index were both up 1 percent, while the SMI in Zurich rose 1.4 percent.

Meanwhile in the U.S., stocks ended in the red on Wednesday after war jitters caused a sell off, but Thursday will bring a slew of economic data and more retail earnings reports for investors to consider.

After two days of rallies on the hope a peaceful solution to the Iraq crisis might be found, the Nasdaq composite fell 12.22 points to 1334.32 and the Dow Jones industrial average lost down 40.55 points to 8000.60. The S&P 500 index declined 6.04 points to 845.13.

Wall Street is expected to open higher later on Thursday. S&P index futures were 4.1 points to 850.90 on the Globex trading system, while fair value -- a measure that take accounts of interest costs and dividend payments -- was calculated at 844.44.

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