European Shares Flip-Flop

European shares and the euro bounced around in choppy trading on Thursday as investors weighed concerns about efforts to reach a deal to bailout Greece with optimism over signs of fragile economic growth.

China said it was considering greater involvement in helping to resolve the region's debt crisis, briefly boosting the single currency but Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, speaking after meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel, did not made any explicit financial commitment.

Talks between Greece and its foreign lenders over a 130-billlion euro second bailout rumbled on without a definite resolution, and debt auctions by Spain and France gave little fresh direction to markets.

Investors also continued to digest data showing U.S. factory activity expanded at its strongest pace in seven months in January while manufacturing in Germany and China was more resilient than expected given the euro zone debt crisis.

"As long as there's no bad news, no default in any European countries, markets should keep on trickling upwards," said Mark Priest, senior trader at ETX Capital.

The euro was little changed on the day at $1.3115, after rising to $1.3189 immediately after the China comments, but was firmly within the range roughly between $1.3230 and $1.3020 that it has traded in since last week.

The FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares, which closed at a high not seen since early August on Wednesday after the positive data, was barely changed at 1,057.18 points.

Spain and France both sold fresh debt at lower average costs than previous auctions on Thursday but the strength of demand took some of the shine off the sales.

The results were seen as further evidence the European Central Bank's liquidity support measures and the European Union's fresh commitment to budget discipline are easing the region's debt crisis.

"A reasonable set of results but certainly not the "humdinger" of an outcome as seen at the last two sets of auctions," said Richard McGuire, rate strategist at Rabobank.

Spain sold 4.56 billion euros of three-, four- and five-year government bonds while France also sold nearly 8.0 billion euros ($10.56 billion) of debt, including a new 10-year bond with lower average yields compared with the previous sales.

Attention will turn to the release of U.S. weekly jobless claims data, due at 1330 GMT, with the number of new applicants expected to come in at 375,000, a slight decline from 377,000 last week.

The release will be closely scrutinised as investors look for indications on the U.S. job market ahead of Friday's all-important non-farm payrolls release for January.