European stock markets struggled for direction on Thursday after a disappointing reading on euro-zone economic growth stoked expectations of further monetary easing.
The Stoxx Europe 600 index slipped 0.1% to 341.42 at the latest, but wavered around the flat line.
Among major movers, London Stock Exchange Group PLC advanced 2.4% after the company lifted its total dividend payment by 4.4%, and said that it has identified additional cost savings in relation to the integration of LCH.Clearnet.
Hennes & Mauritz AB put on 2.1% after the Swedish fashion retailer said its total sales in April, including VAT, increased by 17% in local currencies compared with the same month last year.
Carphone Warehouse Group PLC dropped 2% after the cellphone retailer announced an all-share merger with Dixons Retail PLC worth 3 billion pounds ($5 billion). Dixons Retail shares dropped 3.2%.
More broadly, European investors focused on the latest economic reports from the euro zone. Data from Eurostat showed the euro-zone economy expanded 0.2% in the first quarter, missing expectations of a 0.4% rise. Germany drove most of the improvement, with gross domestic product there rising 0.8% in the first three months of the year, marking the most rapid expansion since the first quarter of 2011. In the fourth quarter of 2013, the German economy grew 0.4%.
France and Italy, however, showed weakness, with the French economy unexpectedly stagnating in the three-month period while the Italian GDP contracted 0.1%. Portugal, Finland, the Netherlands and Cyprus further experienced negative growth rates.
Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit, said in a note that although the euro zone now has managed to expand for four straight quarters, the pace is still lackluster.
"The data therefore add to the likelihood of the ECB taking action at its June meeting to inject more stimulus into the economy," he said.
In the same vein, European Central Bank Vice President Vitor Constancio said Thursday that the central bank is determined to act "swiftly" if needed to battle the low inflation levels and didn't rule out further monetary easing. The final reading for euro-zone April inflation confirmed that consumer prices rose 0.7% last month.
France's CAC 40 index traded 0.2% lower at 4,492.54, while Germany's DAX 30 index was marginally lower at 9,750.46. The U.K.'s FTSE 100 index dropped slightly to 6,876.17.