EUROPE MARKETS: European Stocks Seesaw Into The Close, But End Slightly Higher

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12/07/2017 | 06:10 pm

By Carla Mozee and Sara Sjolin, MarketWatch

Carrefour shares fall after ratings downgrade; Steinhoff tumbles another 46%

Stocks across Europe wobbled into the close on Thursday, settling slightly higher as traders digested deal news and economic growth data.

U.K. stocks underperformed the wider market, hurt by a rise in the pound on hopes U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May is making progress in Brexit talks.

How markets are moving: The Stoxx Europe 600 rose 0.03% to end at 386.42, as gains for the telecom, utility and financials sector largely offset losses for healthcare and basic materials stocks.

Germany's DAX 30 index ended 0.4% higher at 13,045.15, and France's CAC 40 rose 0.2% to 5,383.86. U.K.'s FTSE 100 fell 0.4% to 7,320.75, weighed by a rebound in the British pound

"Stocks in Europe got off to a positive start, but the positive momentum ran out of steam," said David Madden, market analyst at CMC Markets UK, in a note. "European equity markets haven't fully recovered from the selloff in November, and any attempts we see to try and push higher are often short lived."

The euro traded at $1.1795 at the time of the European close, little changed from $1.1798 late Wednesday in New York.

What's moving markets: Investors in European assets assessed data Thursday showing the eurozone economy remains firmly in recovery mode, with Eurostat saying its final print on third-quarter GDP came in at 0.6%, meeting expectations.

Also in focus were Brexit negotiations and in particular the chances for a deal on the Irish border issue, the last of three Brexit issues that have to be resolved before midnight on Sunday, a deadline set by the EU on Thursday ( EU leaders are meeting Dec. 14-15 in Brussels, where they will assess whether there's been "sufficient progress" in the U.K. withdrawal talks to move onto the next stage of trade and transition arrangements.

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May is working on a new proposal for the Irish border that she is expected to present to Ireland's Prime Minister Leo Varadkar on Thursday, according to media reports. A dispute with May's Northern Ireland political allies over the issue of whether to have a "hard" or "soft" border scuttled a potential deal on Monday.

The pound climbed to $1.3428 on hopes May will succeed in settling the remaining issues on the Irish border. Sterling traded at $1.3394 late Wednesday in New York.

In Germany, the head of the Social Democratic Party, Martin Schulz, reportedly said he's open to discussing a renewal of a grand coalition to govern the country. Chancellor Angela Merkel has been trying to form a new government after talks collapsed in November for an alliance between Merkel's conservative party, the Green Party and the pro-business Free Democratic Party. The SPD's three-day party conference began Thursday.

Stock movers: British bookmaker Ladbrokes Coral Group PLC (LCL.LN) rallied 29% after news the company is in GBP3.9 billion takeover talks with GVC Holdings PLC (>> GVC Holdings). GVC shares were up 5%.

William Hill PLC (>> William Hill) shares climbed 8.1% as that British bookmaker agreed to support Scientific Games Corp.'s (>> Scientific Games Corp) proposed acquisition of NYX Gaming Group Ltd. (>> NYX Gaming Group Ltd). As part of the agreement, William Hill plans to sell the 6.8 million NYX ordinary shares it owns to Scientific Games.

Broadcaster Sky PLC (>> Sky) rose 0.9%. CNBC reported this week that Sky stakeholder 21st Century Fox Inc. (>> 21st Century Fox) is closing in on a deal to sell some assets to Walt Disney Co. (>> Walt Disney Company (The)).

Steinhoff International Holdings NV sank 46%, extending Wednesday's plunge of 63% after the retail holding company said Chief Executive Markus Jooste resigned with immediate effect amid an accounting probe. The company has now tanked 83% so far this week.

Intrum Justitia AB (>> Intrum Justitia AB) jumped 12% after the Swedish debt collection company issued a strategy update.

Carrefour SA (>> Carrefour) fell 2.9% following a ratings downgrade to underperform from market-perform at Bernstein.

"Re-rating is based on wishful thinking," including that politicians protecting French farmers will protect Carrefour from price competition, and that Ocado Group PLC's (>> Ocado Group PLC) partnership deal with French supermarket company Groupe Casino SA (>> Casino Guichard-Perrachon) makes a Carrefour/ Inc. (>> deal more likely. "None of it adds up," wrote Bernstein analyst Bruno Monteyne in a research note.

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