On Thursday, markets in Britain, Germany and France all ended lower.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average ended down 0.6 percent and the S&P 500 shed 0.3 percent.

Weekly jobless claims showing a 68,000 spike last week to 368,000 were largely ignored given difficulties making adjustments as a result of the late timing of the Thanksgiving holiday. However, figures showing retail sales in the U.S. rose by a better than expected 0.7 percent in November had a far bigger impact, especially as back data were revised upward, too.

The focus will likely remain on the Fed until its decision next Wednesday.

The future of the Fed's stimulus has been the main driver across all markets since May, when chairman Ben Bernanke first mooted the possibility.

Benchmark crude oil for January delivery rose 2 cents to $97.52 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 6 cents on Thursday to settle at $97.50.

In currency markets, the dollar rose to 103.74 yen from 103.56 yen. The euro gained to $1.3753 from $1.3745.

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