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European stocks finish just short of record highs

European stocks

The STOXX 600 index edged 0.1 per cent lower, trading just below the record closing peak of 435.26 points on Tuesday

European stocks were little changed and finished just short of record highs yesterday, with healthcare shares among top decliners, while optimism over speedy vaccination drives and a weaker pound helped UK equities outperform.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index edged 0.1 per cent lower, trading just below the record closing peak of 435.26 points on Tuesday. Healthcare stocks dropped 0.8 per cent, leading sectoral declines.

UK’s exporter-heavy FTSE 100 advanced 0.9 per cent as a weaker pound lifted the dollar earners, while the domestically focussed midcap index reached a record high as Britain began the roll-out of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine.

It appears that while the UK blue chip index, and its mid-cap sibling, enjoy the optimism surrounding the country’s post-Covid comeback, sterling has been saddled with concerns over the vaccine programme, said Connor Campbell, an analyst at Spreadex.

A bounce back in economically sensitive sectors such as banks, energy and automakers pushed European stocks to pre-pandemic levels earlier this week, as investors bet on a strong global economic recovery, driven by vaccines and unprecedented stimulus measures.

A final reading of IHS Markit’s Purchasing Managers’ Index showed euro zone business activity returned to growth in March, underpinned by a record expansion in the manufacturing sector and as the service industry coped with new lockdowns better than expected.

There is a case to be made in the second half of the year when Europe really has its moment, because it has lagged the rest in its recovery. They’ve finally managed to ramp up vaccine production and distribution, said Julien Lafargue, head of equity strategy at Barclays Private Bank.

With earnings season set to kick off this month, investors are hoping for a strong recovery.

Profits for companies on the STOXX 600 are expected to climb 47.4 per cent in Q1 versus beaten-down numbers a year earlier, according to Refinitiv IBES data.

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