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Written by: Staff

LONDON, Mar 2 (Reuters) European stocks were little changed on Thursday after the European Central Bank raised interest rates by 25 basis points as expected, while robust earnings boosted LVMH and insurer Aviva.

U.S. crude oil prices however rose more than 1 per cent to $62.7 a barrel and auto shares fell, with Volkswagen down 3.7 per cent and BMW losing 1.5 per cent.

By 1305 GMT (1835 IST), the pan-European FTSEurofirst index of 300 leading shares was flat at 1,356.0 points, below a 4-1/2-year high of 1,363.8 points struck on Monday.

U.S. stock index futures pointed to a weaker Wall Street start.

The pan-European index has risen 6 per cent so far this year on robust corporate earnings growth, a spate of mergers and acquisitions and supported by low interest rates.

The euro stood at $1.1930 after the ECB hiked interst rates.

''The quarter point hike to 2.5 per cent is one of the ECB's better flagged rate moves,'' Bear Stearns Chief European Economist David Brown said in a note.

Among gainers, Deutsche Telekom gained 2.4 per cent as Europe's biggest telecoms group raised its dividend more than expected despite sticking to its cautious outlook.

Aviva rallied 3.7 per cent as the company beat analysts' expectations with a 29 per cent jump in annual profit.

LVMH advanced 5.3 per cent as it reported a forecast-beating 16 per cent rise in 2005 operating profit and was upbeat about current trading and future growth.

Shares in Arcelor jumped 4 per cent to a record high of 32.55 euros as traders said the steel maker's management appeared to be softening its stance on an unsolicited takeover bid from Mittal Steel.


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