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ROTTERDAM/LONDON: 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% at 432.22 points, about a point away from its all-time high. Its US counterparts have already recaptured all their coronavirus-driven losses from last year.

The German DAX climbed 0.7% to hit an all-time high, while the UK’s FTSE 100 gained 0.4% as data showed euro zone factory activity growth galloped at its fastest pace in the near 24-year history of a leading business survey in March.

The STOXX 600 index had ended the first quarter on Wednesday with a 7.7% rise - its fourth straight quarter of gains. But it took the benchmark index seven months more than the US S&P 500 to reclaim its pre-pandemic high, slowed down by a sluggish vaccination roll-out and a new wave of infections.

President Emmanuel Macron ordered France into its third national lockdown, but the French blue-chip index 0.6% rose after a sluggish start.

Buoying global sentiment further, US President Joe Biden unveiled a sweeping $2.3 trillion spending plan on Wednesday that includes investments in roads, railways, broadband, clean energy and semiconductor manufacture.

Chip stocks including ASML, ASMI, Infineon Technologies and BE Semiconductor all rose between 1.2% and 3.6% after US chipmaker Micron Technology issued an upbeat revenue forecast.

Also boosting the sector, contract chipmaker TSMC said it plans to invest $100 billion over the next three years to increase capacity at its plants. British food delivery firm Deliveroo’s shares fell 1.9% after plunging by as much as 30% in their trading debut on Wednesday. German peer Delivery Hero jumped 3.9% after Dutch tech investment company Prosus NV raised its stake in the company.

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