LONDON (TheDeal) -- European stocks were little changed to lower on Thursday, as investors awaited a fresh batch of economic data out of the U.S. and as spirits maker Diageo (DEO) slumped on disappointing third-quarter earnings.
In London, the FTSE was down 0.01% at 7,096.03, while in Frankfurt, the DAX erased 0.56% to 12,162.33. The CAC 40 was down 0.06% at 5,251.20.
Diageo investors were in poor spirits, sending the stock down 2.16% in London. The maker of Johnnie Walker whisky, Smirnoff vodka and Guinness beer said sales unexpectedly fell in the third quarter, citing tough conditions in emerging markets and weak consumer demand in some developed markets.
In North America, however, consumers are resilient and the spirits category is improving, said CEO Ivan Menezes, adding that the company is investing in brands and focusing on cost and cash. "We can realize Diageo's full potential and deliver our performance ambition, he said.
British housing construction company Persimmon (PSMMF) was also down. The stock fell 1% after the company warned that the upcoming general election in the U.K. may make it harder to get planning permission for new sites. On the plus side, the company said it has made an encouraging start to 2015, with a healthy forward order book and a 7% sales increase in the first quarter.
In Vienna, real estate company Conwert Immobilien erased 1.7% after hostile bidder Deutsche Wohnen (DWHHF) announced that it failed to reach the acceptance rate for its $1 billion offer. Deutsche Wohnen shares were up 0.29% in Frankfurt.
Elsewhere in the region, strong corporate results boosted a number of stocks.
Anglo-Dutch consumer products giant Unilever (UL) gained more than 4% in London after the maker of Dove soap, Ben & Jerry's ice cream and Hellman's mayonnaise posted first-quarter results above expectations.
Underlying sales rose 2.8%, exceeding the 2.1% predicted by analysts in a Bloomberg News survey, with emerging markets up 5.4% largely driven by price. Underlying sales growth was broad-based across all product categories.
Unilever is also benefiting from innovations behind premium ice cream brands, from the new Magnum Pink and Black bars to the Ben & Jerry's Core range in Europe and new flavors of Breyers Gelato in the U.S. It's also building its green tea business with new variants in India, Russia and the Middle East.
U.K. department-store retailer Debenhams (DBHSY) rose 5% amid better-than-expected first-half results. Pretax earnings were 4.3% higher than last year, despite a difficult autumn, and CEO Michael Sharp said the company is on track to deliver full-year expectations.
SABMiller (SBMRY) gained 1.98% in London after the world's second-largest brewer said that lager volumes increased by 2% in the fourth quarter, as growth in Africa and Latin America offset weak volumes in China and North America. Net producer revenue grew by 6% in the quarter and 4% in the 12 months ended March 31.
Aerospace company Airbus (EADSY) also gained altitude. The stock was up 2.74% in Paris after announcing a plan to buy back up to 10% of shares. That move will be put a shareholder vote in late May, along with a plan to raise the annual dividend by 60%.
Later today, all attention will be on the U.S., where the release of data on March housing starts and weekly jobless claims later today may offer clues about interest-rate direction in the world's largest economy. As expected, the European Central Bank on Wednesday left eurozone interest rates unchanged, with President Mario Draghi -- briefly interrupted by a confetti-throwing protester -- saying the ECB's monetary policy is helping the economy recover.
Asian markets were mainly in positive territory Thursday, with the Hang Seng adding 0.44% to 27,739.71 in Hong Kong and the Nikkei up 0.08% at 19.885.77 in Tokyo.