Europe’s STOXX 600 ekes out gain on defensive boost; H&M jumps By Reuters

By Shristi Achar A and Johann M Cherian

(Reuters) -European stocks inched up to close at a record high on Wednesday helped by gains in defensive sectors, while shares of the world’s second-largest listed fashion retailer H&M (ST:) saw their strongest day in nearly nine months on upbeat quarterly results.

The pan-European edged up 0.1%, underpinned by firmer utilities and healthcare.

Sweden’s H&M was among top performers, surging 15.2% after the retailer reported a stronger than expected first-quarter operating profit, as new CEO Daniel Erver said shoppers liked the brand’s spring collections.

The broader retail sector ended up 2.5%.

“We had a nice set of figures from (H&M) and it shows that maybe they are fighting off those cheaper competitors more effectively and have taken quite a chunk out of the European market,” said Chris Beauchamp, chief market analyst at IG Group.

The benchmark index is eyeing a second straight quarterly advance, with a 6.8% gain so far. Dovish signals from major central banks and a rally in technology stocks powered by AI fervour have spurred STOXX 600 to record highs.

“The main thing that really seems to come through with investors is the fact that, yes, European markets are sitting at record highs, but they’re still not as expensive as U.S. counterparts,” Beauchamp added.

In focus later in the week will be U.S. Feb. personal consumption expenditure data, that could offer clues on the timing for the Federal Reserve’s first interest rate cut.

Meanwhile, ECB board member Piero Cipollone said the European Central Bank was increasingly confident inflation will fall back to its 2% target by mid-2025 as wage growth moderates.

Sweden’s central bank held its key rate unchanged at 4.00% as expected and said that inflation pressures had now eased enough for the policy rate to be cut in the coming months.

Deutsche Bank gained 2.7% and notched a six-year high after Morgan Stanley upgraded the German lender to “overweight.” The stock was among top performers on 40 index which closed 0.5% higher.

Ratings agency Standard & Poor’s cut SBB’s credit rating to selective default from CCC+, adding that the Swedish landlord had selectively defaulted on some of its debt, sending shares of the embattled group down 4.0%.

DS Smith jumped 10.2% after the British paper and packaging firm said it was in talks with International Paper for an all-stock offer valued at 5.72 billion pounds ($7.22 billion).

European markets will be shut on Friday and Monday for Easter holidays.

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